Why have visitor numbers to Spain fallen for the first time in a decade?

By On September 04, 2018

Why have visitor numbers to Spain fallen for the first time in a decade?

Spain has seen its largest fall in international visitor numbers in eight years, according to new figures revealing that 4.9 per cent fewer overseas tourists holidayed in the country in July than during the same period in 2017.

While Spanish destinations still drew 10 million tourists through the month, significant drops in arrivals from the leading markets of the United Kingdom, France and Germany drove the sharpest decline since April 2010, according to the report from the country’s National Institute of Statistics (INE).

But the numbers have been shrugged off by the Spanish minister for industry, commerce and tourism, Reyes Maroto, who said the country was now eyeing an alternative model of quality over quantity.

Officials in Palma    de Mallorca have cracked down on short-term accommodation sites, like Airbnb
Officials in Palma de Mallorca have cracked down on short-term accommodation sites, like Airbnb Credit: istock

Speaking to reporters at an event in Santander as the figures were published on Monday, Ms Maroto acknowledged a “slowdown” in tourist arrivals. But, she explained: “We are going to bet on a strategy based on quality, being conscious that effectively we are going to have a slowdown in the flows. We are having it (now),” she said.

Indeed, another report released by the INE on Monday shows that the steep decline in numbers was not similarly reflected in overall receipts. These suffered just a 0.9 per cent drop, buoyed by rises in spending per tourist by 4.23 percent - 7 per cent in the case of visitors from Britain, Spain’s largest source of overseas tourism.

The Spanish authorities want to move the tourism industry away fr om its traditional reliance on the “sun and beach” category, and increase the focus on cultural and urban destinations.

TurEspaña, the state tourism agency, has outlined a marketing strategy for 2018-20 that focuses heavily on developing “international tourism of quality” and drawing “cosmopolitan tourists” - people who travel more frequently for shorter stays, spend more, and enjoy cultural activities such as music, events, gastronomy or language learning. These potential visitors - of whom there are 6.2 million in Britain, according to the agency - “are sensitive to environmental themes and consume preferably local products and are respectful to the local environment.”

The marketing vision, which also expresses concern about the impact of Brexit on tourism from the UK, eyes the goal of renewing “the perception of the Spain tourist brand” at higher socioeconomic levels, making the country “an aspirational destination”.

There has b een a growing clamour in Spain for a move away from the cheap package tourism often associated with the mega-resorts of the Costas and the booze-drenched nightclubs of destinations such as Magaluf.

Barcelona has seen anti-tourist protests in recent years
Barcelona has seen anti-tourist protests in recent years Credit: istock

In some areas such as the Balearics and Barcelona, protests have sprung up over what locals and activists refer to as “overtourism” and “drunken tourism”, with residents complaining about the impact of rowdy tourist behaviour on their neighborhoods. In Barcelona's old town, representatives of one neighbourhood group told Telegraph Travel the "Magaluf-isation" of the area's tourism was having a serious impact on quality of life in the area.

Sites such as Airbnb have also attracted the ire of residents and local authorities, who say the proliferation of such lettings both drives up rents and further encourages low budget tourism.

Earlier this year, Palma, the Balearics capital, led the way in banning Airbnb-style rentals in city apartments, while other areas are also following suit with restrictive measures.

Ms Maroto acknowledged that some Spanish destinations were “very saturated”, which was generating “problems of coexistence with the resident(s).”

But the latest figures indicated that the push for diversification and higher quality tourism was working, she said.

INE figures show Madrid bucking the trend with a 6.7 per cent increase in visitors in July, against drops in "sun and sea" destinations such as the Balearics, Catalonia and Andalucia.

While the change in model might make up for the shortfall in visitors, however, it is not clear that it is the main driv er. Industry groups suggest that Spain has been affected by the return of tourists to other Mediterranean destinations such as Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey, which had been hit hard by security issues and political instability in recent years.

Juan Molas, president of the Spanish Confederation of Hotels and Tourist Accommodation (CEHAT), said that the July fall was in some ways an expected “readjustment” after years in which Spain had benefited from “borrowed” tourism. But the industry was able to adapt, he told the newspaper La Razon, adding that “no one should get nervous”.

Source: Google News Spain | Netizen 24 Spain

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