Tourism in Spain

Tourist arrivals in Catalonia see 13.9% year-on-year fall in December

Spain broke its tourism record in 2017 with 81.8 million visitors, but the last month of the year saw the first fall since 2013

The political crisis in Catalonia is having its effect on tourism.
The political crisis in Catalonia is having its effect on tourism.Julian Rojas

Spain received a record 81 million foreign tourists in 2017, making it the second-most popular destination in the world, according to a new report from Spain’s National Institute of Statistics (INE). But December was not a good month for tourism. Just over four million people came to Spain, a drop of 0.22% on figures from the previous year and the first year-on-year fall since January 2013. The dwindling number of visitors to Catalonia has been blamed for the fall.

In December, the crisis-plagued region received 823,427 visitors – 133,041 fewer than the same month in 2016. This represents a dramatic year-on-year drop of 13.91%. It was also the third consecutive month that tourism had fallen in Catalonia and the worst fall the region has seen since 2009, when Spain was still reeling from the effects of the 2018 global financial crisis.

December was the third consecutive month that tourism figures had fallen in Catalonia

In the last trimester, which began with the illegal independence referendum on October 1, Catalonia received 3.3 million tourists – 229,327 fewer than the same period from last year.

The report shows business tourism has been hurt the most (35% year-on-year drop in December) while recreational tourism has been least affected (3.2%). French tourists to Catalonia, the region’s principal market, fell by 37%, with only 176,805 French visitors making a trip in December. The number of Italian and British tourists also fell 6.57% and 5.83%, respectively. There was, however, a year-on-year rise in the number of visitors from the United States (up 17.2%), Russia (51.17%), South Korea (54.6%) and Brazil (87%).

But despite the falling numbers, Catalonia continues to be the leading tourist destination in Spain, both in the number of tourists (19 million in 2017, a rise of 5%) and in tourist spending (€19 billion, a rise of 9.65%).

Record-breaking numbers

While Spain received a record-breaking 81.8 million visitors in 2017, 8.6% more than in 2016, the achievement has been clouded by the fact December recorded the first drop in tourism since 2009, when the country was in the middle of the financial crisis. Since then, the year-on-year number of foreign visitors to Spain has increased 58 months in a row, with political uncertainty in Spain’s Mediterranean rivals – such as Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey – spurring on Spain’s tourism boom.

Despite the falling numbers, Catalonia continues to be the leading tourist destination in Spain

While Catalonia is the main culprit behind the drop in tourism, the number of tourists to the Balearic Islands also fell in December by 1.9%. Despite this, last year the region recorded a 6.1% rise in visitors. Tourism to Spain’s other regions also jumped, particularly in Madrid, which received 15.7% more visitors in 2017 than the previous year, and in Valencia, where tourism rose by 15.36%.

The statistics also show that Catalonia continues to receive the highest tourism expenditure of Spain’s regions, bringing in €16 billion in 2017, followed by the Balearic Islands.

The United Kingdom remains Spain’s biggest tourist market. In 2017, 18.8 million Brits visited Spain, a 6.2% jump upon 2016 figures. The number of German tourists rose by 6.1% with 11.8 million Germans visiting Spain. There was a rise in the number of visitors from the United States (32.4%), Switzerland (21.1%), Russia and Nordic Countries (14%) and Ireland (87%).

English version by Melissa Kitson.