Spain sets a historical record for international tourists

Spain sets a historical record for international tourists

Spain closed the year with a new record for tourist arrivals, as all forecasts anticipated. In 2023 a total of 85.1 million tourists visited Spain, which represented an increase of 18.7% compared to the previous year. If this figure is compared to 2019, before the pandemic, tourist arrivals were 1.9% higher.

These tourists spent more time in our country and therefore the level of spending also rose, registering another historical record.

The total expenditure made by non-resident tourists in Spain during 2023 rose by 24.7% to reach 108,662 million euros. If this figure is compared to 2019, total spending was 18.2% higher.

The British market contributed almost 17.3 million tourists to Spain last year, becoming the main source, followed by France, with 11.8 million tourists, and Germany, with 10.8 million tourists.

The autonomous communities that benefited most from these extraordinary historical data were Catalonia, which received 18 million tourists, 21.2% more than the previous year, as well as the Balearic and Canary Islands, which received around 14 million tourists, confirming that the Spanish 'sun and beach' continues to have a pull among foreign visitors.

The Minister of Industry and Tourism, Jordi Hereu, highlighted that «in addition to the number of tourists exceeding 85 million for the first time in history», spending at the destination, average spending and average stay are above 2019, «which shows that thanks to the Government's policies, the tourism industry is pivoting towards quality and towards more sustainable and seasonally adjusted tourism.»

The average spending per traveler and spending per day offer hopeful and very optimistic figures. Each tourist has spent an average of 1,278 euros in Spain, 5.1% more than last year and 16.1% more than in 2019.

Spending per day also reflects this growth, reaching 175 euros, which is 8% more than in 2022 and 13.1% more than in 2019. Likewise, the average stay, a very important parameter to measure the satisfaction of the tourists who visit us and the quality of the Spanish tourism industry also increases to 7.3 days (in 2019 the average was 7.1 days).

The statistical data on tourist movements at borders (Frontur) made public by the National Institute of Statistics (INE) indicate that the arrival of tourists residing in the United Kingdom increased by 14.6% last year; that of those from France, 17%; and that of those who came from Germany, 10.6%.

It is also worth highlighting the extraordinary increases recorded by markets such as the United States, which grew by 38.7% to exceed 3.8 million visitors, as well as Switzerland, which grew by 21.3% or Italy, which grew by 21.2%.

By community, Catalonia was the autonomous community with the most tourists in 2023, followed by the Balearic and Canary Islands. 18 million tourists arrived in Catalonia (21.2% more than in 2022); to the Balearic Islands, 14.4 million (9.1% more); and to the Canary Islands, 13.9 million (13.1% more).

Another 12.2 million tourists arrived in Andalusia, almost 22% more than in 2022; to the Valencian Community, 10.4 million (21.8% more), and to Madrid, 7.8 million tourists; being the one with the greatest growth last year, with 29.6% more. The rest of the communities as a whole received 8.1 million visitors, which also represents increases of over 20%, specifically 23.8%.

In 2023, the total expenditure made by non-resident tourists in Spain was 108,662 million euros, which represented an increase of 24.7% compared to 2022. If this figure is compared with 2019, the total expenditure was 18.7%. 2% higher, according to the INE tourist spending survey.

The country that spent the most was the United Kingdom, with 19,947 million euros, 16.3% more than in 2023. They were followed by Germany (with 12,978 million and an increase of 12.6%) and France (with 9,767 million, a 19.7% more).

The United States is also one of the markets with the greatest increase in destination spending in 2023: more than 7.8 billion euros, which means 50% more compared to 2022 and 36.4% compared to 2019.

«Both American and Swiss citizens correspond to a profile of tourists with high purchasing power, which results in a significant increase in spending at the destination and therefore in the quality and excellence of our tourism offer,» said Minister Hereu.

The autonomous communities that concentrated the highest total expenditure were Catalonia (with 20,878 million, 26.7% more than in 2022), the Canary Islands (with 20,334 million and an increase of 16.5%) and the Balearic Islands (with 17,722 million, 16.4% more than in 2022).

On a monthly level, December also broke all records. Spain received 5.2 million international tourists in December 2023, 26.2% more than in the same month of 2022. In relation to total spending, in December it increased by 35.4%, reaching 7,093 million euros.

Tourism reaches its peak, but warns of risks: the engine of the economy faces drought and overcrowding

70% of the advance in Spanish GDP in 2023 is explained by this sector, whose profit margin is at historic highs.

Tourism has become the driving force of the post-pandemic Spanish economy. It has done so by creating jobs, increasing its income, recovering record profits and with the largest arrival of foreign tourists in history. However, this year the sector faces two interconnected challenges: the drought that is devastating regions such as Catalonia and Andalusia and the overcrowding of certain tourist destinations.

According to data from Exceltur, an association formed by leading companies in the sector, in 2023, 70.8% of the real growth of the Spanish economy is explained by the good functioning of tourism. In general terms, the contribution of this sector to the gross domestic product (GDP) was 12.8%.

Likewise, and according to data from Turespaña, an autonomous organization attached to the Ministry of Tourism, the number of people employed in the tourism sector last year reached 2.67 million people, 2.3% more than in 2022. This is 12 .6% of all workers in Spain.

More employment to sustain increasing tourism demand. The preference for leisure and travel over other consumption options — despite the still high inflation — explains a notable growth in income compared to 2019 data, according to Exceltur. An increase in the turnover of both national tourists (22.2%) and foreign tourists (17.9%).

A whole series of data that has led the sector to completely recover from covid-19 in terms of its profit margin, which means returning to record figures. The moving average for the third quarter of last year shows a margin on sales in tourism and transportation of 22.82%, according to data from the Tax Agency.

The year 2023 was also a record year in the arrival of international tourists. A total of 85.1 million tourists visited Spain, which is 18.7% more than 2022 and almost 2% above pre-pandemic levels. Catalonia was the region that received the highest number of visitors.

In addition, these tourists spent more time in our country and, therefore, the level of spending also rose, registering another historical record. The total expenditure made by foreign tourists during 2023 increased by 24.7%, reaching 108,662 million euros. If this figure is compared to 2019, total spending was 18.2% higher.

An arrival of foreign tourists that is also reflected in airport traffic. Thus, the airports in the Aena network in Spain closed 2023 with a historical record of passengers. The total number, 283,195,399 passengers, is 16.2% higher than the figure for 2022 and 2.9% higher than that of 2019, a record year so far.

Looking ahead to this year, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates that Spain will receive 13% more tourists during the first half of the year compared to the same period in 2019.

However, tourism faces risks that threaten to seize this economic engine. Among them, a drought in territories that are important tourist destinations: Catalonia and Andalusia. The restrictions that are already being imposed range from the limitation of personal consumption to the prohibition of filling swimming pools, something that can become a real headache for hotels.

«The concern is enormous,» said Carlos Díez, CEO of the Les Roches tourism school during an interview with EL ESPAÑOL-Invertia in the latest edition of the International Tourism Fair (Fitur). Díez based his response on conversations with senior executives in the sector, who have shown him his concern.

When there is a lack of water in the reservoirs, the priority of the administrations is to guarantee the consumption of the population. The supply of tourist and recreational activities remains, therefore, in the background. And although in the case of tourism recycled water is used for purposes such as irrigation, drinking water is essential for its activity.

The water reserves can be seen in the following map from the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge. In the case of large areas of Catalonia and Andalusia, reserves are below 20%.

According to the CEO of Les Roches, «if the situation does not improve in one year, next year there will be cuts» that will seriously affect tourism in the areas that suffer the most from the drought. He is confident, however, that the summer 2024 season can be saved.

«El sector puede hacer que su preocupación incite a los políticos a hacer más», señaló Díez ante la pregunta de qué puede hacerse desde las empresas turísticas. Amén de la consigna del consumo responsable que siempre transmiten a sus clientes.

Likewise, the other great challenge is that of managing increasingly crowded destinations, something that causes rejection among part of the population of those places. Companies in the sector are aware and, precisely for this reason, they are increasingly betting on a model based on the quality of the tourist and not on the quantity.

A few weeks ago, Fitur took place, where the vast majority of managers in the sector pointed out the path of looking for a client with a higher spending profile. A tourist that allows the sector to continue growing in turnover without needing more and more travelers.

The institutions are aware of the problem. At the doors of Fitur, the general director of Turespaña, Miguel Sanz, pointed out that tourism has «broken the social contract» with local residents. The solution, therefore, is for the tourism industry to focus on the well-being of the citizens of vacation destinations. Thus, growth will be compatible with this social sustainability.

However, the official tourism sector denies being the problem. On the contrary, they are pointed out as the solution. This is because they consider that illegal tourist apartments are what are causing the overcrowding of many destinations. It is an unregulated and difficult to control offer that means the arrival of even more visitors.

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