Fewer foreign tourists have come to Spain this summer season than in 2017, which was a record year for the sector. International arrivals numbered 9.98 million in the month of July, a 4.9 percent drop from the same period last year.
Spain’s biggest markets have been sending fewer visitors: the number of British tourists fell by 5.6 percent in July, while there was a 11.4 percent drop in visitors from France and 6.2 percent from Germany.
Barring natural events – such as the emissions from the Iceland volcano that paralyzed air traffic for several days in April 2010, slowing down visits to Spain by 13 percent – the figure for July 2018 represents the biggest decline in international tourist arrivals since 2009, when the economic crisis led to monthly drops of between 10 percent and 15 percent.
However, the July figure of 9.98 million international visitors is only “low” compared to last year’s all-time high of 10.5 million. The 10-million threshold has been crossed three times in recent history, twice in the month of August and once in July.
Industry leaders are also pointing to a recovery of alternative sun-and-sand destinations such as Tunisia and Turkey, whose tourism sector had suffered in recent years from terrorist attacks and regional instability. In the case of Turkey, the recent depreciation of the lira has made the country even more attractive to foreign tourists.
Also, exceptionally warm weather in northern Europe has made it unnecessary to fly to Spain to enjoy the beach. France, Britain and even Finland and Norway have experienced a hot summer, while in Russia, the temperature in June was eight degrees higher than usual.
Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto has played down the year-on-year drop from July 2017, saying that the government wants “a strategy based on quality” and “diversification” in order to avoid overcrowding.
“We are going to get behind a strategy based on quality, aware that there is going to be a slowdown in tourism flows. It is already happening,” said Maroto at a news conference in Santander recently.
But the minister also underscored that the accumulated figure for the last seven months shows 47.1 million tourist arrivals, a 0.3 percent rise from the same period last year. She also said that tourist spending has grown 3 percent so far this year.
Maroto added that her department wants to diversify the options for tourists because there are currently “very overcrowded destinations” and this is creating “problems with local residents.” The minister did not directly allude to the anti-tourist sentiment that has cropped up in parts of Spain due to the mass tourism in some city centres.
The Balearic Islands continued to top the list of favourite tourist destinations in July 2018, receiving 24.4 percent of all foreign tourists in Spain. Catalonia ranked second with 23.9 percent, followed by Andalusia with 13.3 percent. In spite of this, arrivals declined in all three regions. The Madrid region experienced the opposite trend, with a 6.7 percent rise in foreign tourists in July. The tourists who did come spent fewer days in Spain compared with other years. The average stay in July was four to seven nights.