Is the Brits love affair with the Costa del Sol over?
I have been coming to the Costa del Sol region of Spain since the late eighties, mostly staying within the triangle formed by La Cala de Mijas, Fuengirola and Mijas village.
This area has the stunning hills of Mijas as a backdrop with miles of beautiful beaches stretching from Bellamedena to Marbella.
With a flight time of only 2 ½ hours from either East Midlands or Birmingham airports, I can leave home in the morning drive to the airport and be on a beach in the afternoon and for years the lure of fantastic weather with over 300 days of sunshine and a favourable cost of living it became the number one destination.
Nearly a million Brits at one time lived in the area with many more having second homes on top of those visiting the region using one of the many hotels; self accommodation or time shares.
As I write this article, I am staying in a friend's apartment in La Cala Hills and for the first time in living memory I am able to look out of the window and not see a single crane. Although the recession in the early eighties saw many apartment blocks and villas unfinished for many years there were still signs of activity and a sense of optimism.
This has all changed and the first evidence of this was when we first got to the airport, while the off airport car park we used was pretty full many of the on airport car parks furthest from the airport were virtually empty. Whilst the recent disruption by the ash cloud will have had an impact for late bookers, the current recession is hurting.
The next indication was the flight over that was only two-thirds full and once again a new experience and when we arrived at Malaga, albeit it was early evening, the place seemed very quiet and the same at the car hire.
Whilst this is only the first week in May everywhere is pretty much deserted from the bars, miles of promenades and beaches, restaurants and the golf courses. I spoke to several people and the response was the same, "they had never known it so quiet and that it was affecting all businesses".
Whilst the world wide recession is definitely having a major affect, the biggest change is the cost of everything from a beer to a game of golf. The going rate for a round of golf is 70 euros and a small bear 2.5 euros. A round of golf on a quality course is about £35.
The cost of living has risen dramatically which has led to many Brits going back to the UK and there are for sale signs every where. The property market appears to be in free fall with the value of pound falling from 1.40 to around 1.13 being a major factor.
The days of a cheap holiday in Spain appears to be over.