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Spain overtakes US to become second most-visited country in the world

Tourism industry estimates 82 million visitors arrived in 2017

International tourist numbers soared in 2017.
International tourist numbers soared in 2017. Atlas

Spain’s tourism sector is on a roll, and it looks like the good times will extend to 2018.

Last year, industry activity grew 4.4% on the back of historic highs, both in terms of international visitors and tourist spending. This year, the business lobby Alliance for Excellence in Tourism (Exceltur) is expecting a further rise of 3.3%.

Alternative destinations such as Turkey have been experiencing a recovery

This industry leader has also estimated the impact of the Catalan crisis on tourism to be in the range of €319 million. If the crisis were to persist, the growth forecast for 2018 would shrink to 2.8%

Even though the secessionist bid shaved three tenths of a percentage point from tourism activity in 2017, it was still a record year for Spain: over 82 million international visitors, an 8.9% leap from 2016, and a 1.5% increase in average spending per tourist, according to tourism ministry estimates released this week.

This makes Spain the world’s second-most popular tourist destination, behind France and ahead of the United States.

A packed beach in Benidorm.
A packed beach in Benidorm. EFE

The tourism industry’s share of GDP has increased to 11.5%, representing €134 billion. And industry growth resulted in 77,501 new jobs in 2017, said Exceltur.

Political instability in the last quarter of the year, following the illegal independence referendum of October 1, has negatively affected international tourism, particularly in geographically close markets like France, where visitor numbers were down 19.7% year on year in the October–November period. German visitor numbers fell 14% and the UK’s retreated 8%. Asian markets sent fewer visitors as well. However, tourists from the Americas grew notably in number, particularly those from Argentina (a 74% rise) and the United States (18.2%).

Slower growth in 2018

Exceltur said that 2018 “will be another excellent year” and predicted 3.3% growth for the tourism sector, higher that the forecast for the Spanish economy as a whole but lower than in the last two years – and that is without factoring in the potential effects of a protracted crisis in Catalonia.

The lower growth figure can be partially explained by a gradual recovery of alternative destinations that compete directly with Spain, such as Turkey, where terrorist attacks have driven tourism down.

“The challenge for the tourism industry now is to ensure sustainable growth with a view to the future,” said José Luis Zoreda, executive vice-president of Exceltur, at a news conference.

Despite the optimistic forecast, Exceltur is warning about a drop in revenues in early 2018: 10% for hotels, 6.8% for car rental companies, and 3.5% for transportation firms. The business association said “there will be staff adjustments” to make up for these losses.

English version by Susana Urra.

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