29th September 2023
People sunbathing on Barceloneta beach in Barcelona in 2019
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Foreign tourism to Spain in 2021 up by 64% – but falls short of government’s target

Latest: Coronavirus in Spain figures (4 Feb)

Data released this week confirmed that 31.1 million international tourists visited Spain during 2021, representing a significant jump of 64.4% from the 18.9 million who visited in 2020.

The numbers, however, are still far below (63%) the pre-pandemic levels of 83.5 million international tourists who visited in 2019. The Spanish government had hoped to see 45 million foreign visitors in 2021, around half the pre-pandemic figure.

The detailed breakdown of numbers, published by the National Statistics Institute (INE), showed that non-resident tourists spent 34.82 billion euros in 2021. During 2020, that figure was only 19.79 billion euros.

The increased spending of international tourists in 2021 is welcome news, but again highlights the devastation of the pandemic to the tourism sector that in 2019 benefitted from 91.91 billion euros of spending.

The number of international visitors continues to be restrained by the changing framework of travel restrictions and guidelines across Europe, and this has been cited as the main reason for numbers remaining lower than pre-pandemic levels during 2021.

Speaking about the data, Reyes Maroto, Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism, said that ‘the recovery of the sector will be consolidated in 2022, and Spain will take advantage of its strengths compared to other competing destinations’.

A slow start to the Covid vaccination programme earlier in 2021 and the delayed introduction of the EU Covid passport have also been blamed for the reduced numbers of visitors. Spain’s vaccination programme has subsequently improved considerably, and the country is now one of the most vaccinated nations in Europe. ALSO READ: Covid-19 Vaccinations in Spain.

This contributed to a strong end to the year for tourism, with December 2021 recording 2.95 million international visitors, compared to just 649,000 in the previous December.

Most international tourists visiting Spain in December were from France, followed by the UK and Germany.

Maroto said that ‘December has turned out better than we expected and that helps us meet the end of year forecasts.’

The tourism sector across Spain has been badly hit by the pandemic, and this week the city of Barcelona highlighted the devastation to its hotel sector, that is reported to have lost up to 2.5 billion euros since the start of the pandemic.

During a press conference, Jordi Clos, president of the Barcelona Hotel Association and vice-president of Turisme de Barcelona, said that 2021 had been a ‘terrible’ year with a lot of ‘uncertainty’.

At the start of 2021, it was hoped that 85% of hotels in the city would open, but by the end of the year this figure was only 73%.

The numbers of international tourists staying in hotel rooms in Barcelona currently represent just 8 to 15% of occupied rooms and Clos said that the city’s tourism industry is still ‘quite slow’.

Barcelona has been particularly hit by the pandemic, as it had previously benefitted from large numbers of international tourists. In 2019, 85% of visitors were international.

Hotels have adopted tactics to encourage more Spanish tourists to visit and stay in the city, with price cuts of up to 40% made to entice visitors.

The upcoming Mobile World Congress (MWC) is hoped to mark a turning point for the city, with 10,000 hotel bookings already secured for the global event taking place at the end of February.

As countries throughout the world continue to adapt to a post-pandemic era, it is hoped that international travel will continue to rebound throughout 2022, with Spain’s tourism sector hoping that this translates into much needed increased revenues.

People sunbathing on Barceloneta beach in Barcelona in 2019
People sunbathing on Barceloneta beach in Barcelona in 2019. (Vicente Zambrano González)

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