75 million and counting: Spain shattered its own tourism record in 2016

Total spending by foreign visitors to the country rose by 8.3% to €77 billion last year

Spain has shattered its own tourism record for the seventh year in a row: 75.3 million foreign visitors made their way to the country in 2016. That’s 7.2 million more than in 2015, for a rise of 9.9%, according to early figures from Spain’s Energy and Tourism Ministry.

People from the UK, France and Britain made up the lion's share of foreign visitors to Spain last year.
People from the UK, France and Britain made up the lion's share of foreign visitors to Spain last year.DAVID RAMOS / GETTY IMAGES

Visitors to Spain in 2016 shelled out a total of €77 billion, up 8.3% from 2015 figures, while average per capita spending was €1,023 for a more modest rise of 3.75%. The average daily amount spent by visitors was €138, some 6.5% higher than a year earlier.

The lion’s share of foreign visitors to Spain came from the UK, France, and Germany. A total of 16.9 million Brits made their way to Spain last year, 12.3% more than a year earlier, evidencing that Brexit is not denting visitor numbers at all.

The tourism industry was an important driver of Spain’s economy during the crisis

In terms of the most popular regions for tourists, Catalonia took the top spot, receiving 17 million visitors from January to November, or 3.8% more than in 2015. The Balearic Islands welcomed 12.9 million visitors and the Canary Islands came third in the rankings with 12 million visitors.

Speaking about the results on Wednesday, Energy and Tourism Minister Álvaro Nadal also noted the strong growth for regions in the country’s interior: visitor numbers to the region of Aragon soared 67.4% while Castilla-La Mancha and Extremadura also saw very healthy jumps of 32.8% and 31.3%, respectively.

Nadal said he was satisfied by Spain’s tourism results in 2016, but underscored the need to create economic policy aimed at “consolidating a very important sector” – one that the World Economic Forum described in 2015 as the most competitive in the world.

The tourism industry has been an important driver of Spain’s economy over the course of the crisis. It contributes more than 10% to GDP and provides 11% of jobs. However, there are concerns over the sustainability of its low-cost sand and sun model.

In a recent study, consulting firm Ernst & Young said that Spain would have to begin “unashamedly” targeting high-end tourists with a coordinated game plan. It pointed out that Europeans make up 89.4% of the total number of visitors to the country, but that they spend on average just €135 a day, compared to €960 for Chinese tourists and €672 for US travelers.

English version by George Mills.

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