Foreign tourist arrivals in Spain hit new low in first half of 2021

There were 5.4 million international visitors between January and June, down 50% from 2020, and the industry fears new travel restrictions that could drive numbers down even further

Turismo en España
Workers putting up an information sign at the beach in Alcúdia, Mallorca on May 12.CATI CLADERA (EFE)

The first six months of the year have marked a new low for Spain’s tourism sector, which is still struggling to recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Between January and June, there were 5.4 million international visitors to the country, according to figures released on Tuesday by the National Statistics Institute (INE). This is around half as many as during the same period in 2020, when there were 10.7 million foreign arrivals (the vast majority of which were concentrated in the months of January and February, before Spain declared a state of alarm in mid-March and tourism was reduced to zero).

This year’s figure is also light years away from the 38.1 million international visitors who came in the first half of 2019, which was a record year for tourism in Spain with 83.7 million arrivals in a country with a population of 47.4 million. In June 2019 alone there were 8.8 million visitors, more than the number that arrived during the whole first half of 2021.

As a matter of fact, this has been the worst six months since the INE and the public institution Turespaña began keeping monthly records in the year 2000. As for spending by tourists, the decline is similar: between January and June, foreign visitors spent €5.8 billion, half as much as last year and 85% less than during the same period in 2019.

The only positive data is in overnight stays, which amounted to 51.7 million if both foreign and domestic tourists are counted. This is nearly 74% less than in 2019, but only a 14% decline from last year. That is partly because hotels were closed between March and June of last year under Spain’s state of alarm. Also, mobility between Spain’s regions was considerably restricted during the first half of this year as regional governments attempted to contain transmission. Meanwhile, international arrivals remained at a minimum, often due to travel restrictions imposed by source countries.

Absence of UK tourists

Statistics show there were 1.2 million visitors from France and 1.2 million from Germany in the first half of the year, whereas there were only 273,333 from the United Kingdom due to the latter country’s ban on holiday travel until May. Travel restrictions eased across the European Union at the beginning of summer, although in the UK’s case it wasn’t until mid-July that fully vaccinated residents were allowed to travel to Spain without the need to self-isolate upon their return.

Ever since mid-March 2020, when the coronavirus crisis began to gather strength, Spain’s tourism industry has been surviving partly thanks to public support in the shape of the ERTE job retention scheme and loans guaranteed by Spain’s Official Credit Institute (ICO). Business owners are still anxiously awaiting direct aid that was promised in March but has yet to materialize.

Spain is currently dealing with a fifth wave of the coronavirus, although its vaccination rate is among the world’s highest and transmission is mostly circumscribed to young, unvaccinated people whose chances of developing serious symptoms are low.

But the industry is worried that Spain’s high infection rates will lead to increased travel restrictions by major source markets, most notably Germany, France and the UK, where an update to its travel list is due on Thursday.

English version by Susana Urra.

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