HENPECKED? MAYBE IT'S TIME TO VISIT CANARIES

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It's definitely not the Love Boat, but the Canary Islands Tourism Board has found a new way to attract old lovebirds.

The board is offering a free weeklong vacation to 70 divorced or legally separated couples in Spain. Billed as the "Reconciliation Flight," the promotion provides an all-expenses-paid trip to the islands-provided the exes can make it through the week together.

Although the tourism board has an annual advertising and promotion budget of $5 million, this effort was done on a shoe-string-$72,000, to be exact. The bulk of the budget is spent on promotional materials to travel agencies and pitches to meeting planners. Very little is being spent on traditional advertising.

The tourism board ran only one paid ad that appeared March 20 in the leading Spanish daily, El Pais. The slogan: "If you want to make peace with your ex, seal it in the Canaries."

The promotion, handled in-house, is the brainchild of tourism board Chairman Miguel Zerolo, who two years ago introduced a "love plane" trip to the Canaries for honeymooners. The event made the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest honeymoon ever and generated what a consultant estimated at $1.8 million in free publicity on a $57,000 budget, a tourism board spokesman said.

Former couples looking to qualify for Mr. Zerolo's latest publicity stunt were asked to send a coupon in the newspaper ad. They were sent information explaining they must submit photos and notarized proof that their marriage was dissolved or dissolving before March 20, the day the ad ran.

Couples had to agree to sleep in the same room and to make themselves available to the media. Twenty to 30 journalists are to be part of the junket. The first 70 couples supplying all the required information win.

The vacation, scheduled to start May 23, includes the round-trip charter flight from Madrid, food, lodging and trips to two or three of Spain's Canary Islands, located off the northwest coast of Africa.

Two hundred coupons were returned in the first two days and the tourism board took calls from hopefuls in other European countries, prompting discussion of future "reconciliation trips."

Tourism officials believe some couples will reconcile.

After "putting together the application and accepting the conditions, we provide the rest: the Canary nights, the beaches, the local color. It all helps," said Francisco Ortega, tourism board general director of promotions.

Mr. Zerolo's imagination has attracted tourists in droves. Last year, a record 8.5 million people visited the Canaries, up 30% from 1992. About 8.5 million are expected again this year.

But for those who accept this most recent offer, there is a catch: If couples can't make it through the week with their exes, they must pay their own way back.

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