Spain’s tourism industry has clocked up a new record. In the first 11 months of the year, the country received over 77.8 million foreign tourists, up 9.1% from a year earlier, according to the National Statistics Institute (INE). In November specifically 4.4 million international tourists visited the country, a rise of 7.4% on a year ago. For this reason, as well as the importance of tourism for the economy, Funcas has chosen the number of foreign tourists to Spain as “the key figure for 2017”.
Whatsmore, Funcas estimates that by year-end 81.5 million tourists will have visited Spain, up 8.2% on 2016. Tourist spending will be around 87 billion euros, up 12% from a year earlier. Funcas’ reason for focusing on the 2017 tourism figure has also been influenced by the fact the industry’s growth has been extraordinary over the last few years, far bigger than that of world tourism, particularly in 2016 and 2017. In 2016, France received the most tourists with 82.6 million, followed by the US with 75.6 million. Spain was almost at the same level as the US, so it’s more than likely it will beat the latter in 2017. The number of tourists arriving in Spain over the last few months is particularly worthy of note if we compare this with the population of each country: Spain has 46.5 million inhabitants, France 67.2 million and the US has 323 million.
Furthermore, the sector’s contribution to the Spanish economy is significant. In 2016, the tourism business accounted for 11.2% of GDP, one percentage point more than in 2010. It also provided 13% of national employment, compared with 11.6% in 2010. The UK sends the most tourists to Spain, accounting for 23% of the total in 2017. Germany and France follow some way behind, each with 14%.
The sector’s biggest challenge in the future is to move from a tourism for the masses, which competes in terms of prices, has not much added value and is focused on the medium-low income market, to a tourism which is sustained more by quality than by quantity and generates more added value. In order to achieve this, there needs to be an increase in cultural tourism, amongst other things. This would take advantage of Spain’s huge national historic and artistic heritage, compared with just its sun and beaches.