Record number of Spanish tourists have not been able to save the summer

by Lorraine Williamson
Spanish tourists

MADRID – According to the hotel sector employers’ organisation, the month of August appears to be a ‘mirage’ in terms of tourist figures, fuelling concerns about the approaching autumn season. 

Although domestic tourism reached an all-time high, it was not enough to make up for the lack of foreign tourists. In July, the number of tourists visiting Spain from other countries was 43% of the level in 2019. 

The second most atypical summer season in Spain’s history is coming to an end. And it is ending with numbers that pale in comparison to pre-pandemic figures. July ended last year as the best in the history of national tourist travel. However, the sector has been operating at half-speed due to the lack of foreign tourists. It is expected figures for August will continue this trend.


“We had an August that is a mirage. The contribution of national tourists has led to hotel occupancy being around 60-65%. In some [hotel] complexes even more,” explains Jorge Marichal, chairman of the employers’ organisation of the Cehat sector. For Marichal, the season was “quite atypical”, with “a great contribution from national tourists” who “decided to go with their own vehicle and especially enjoy the inland and sun and beach destinations”. 

Cehat’s president explains that domestic tourism has, to some extent and for a few weeks, offset much lower numbers of international tourists, a trend that he says will end with September’s arrival. “Last August is now just a mirage. Families are returning home and their children are going back to school. This means that the occupation will fall drastically. The contribution of international tourism does not come close to a volume that can compensate for the decrease he emphasises. 

Very complicated month of September 

The industry now hopes for a favourable evolution of the pandemic. And now that more than 70% of the Spanish population has been fully vaccinated, this will ease restrictions and encourage travel. “September is a very complicated month,” summarises Marichal, who, with data from foreign visitors in hand, is concerned about the approaching autumn season and the recovery of the Christmas and Easter campaigns. 

July record month of Spanish tourists 

With hotel occupancy data unknown for August, the season is on track to become the most “national” in history. In July, 5,773,762 Spaniards stayed in hotel facilities in the country, 1.8% more than in 2019, the year that until this year marked the historic peak in national tourists for that month. 

In fact, the growth in domestic tourism this holiday season saw five provinces improve their historical records for national visitors in July for every month of the year, while another nine recorded their best July in terms of Spanish tourists. However, information that would normally be welcomed in the tourism industry has a bitter aftertaste in light of the lack of international travellers’ arrivals, which barely reached 43.2% of the level recorded in July 2019. 

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By province 

At the provincial level, Cádiz, Huelva, Malaga, Catalonia, Tarragona and Guipúzcoa broke their historical records for national visitors for each month. In addition, the impulse from domestic travel – influenced by the high uncertainty that still surrounds international travel – caused Asturias, Huesca, Lleida, Girona, Segovia, Toledo, Valencia, Alicante and Seville to register their best July. 

Autonomous Regions 

In July, Andalucia, Asturias, Catalonia, the Valencian Community and the Basque Country broke their record for domestic travellers. Andalucia, with 1.3 million national tourists, was the community in first place in this regard. This was followed by Catalonia with 923,436 and the Valencian Community with 688,775 national visitors. 

Furthermore, the boom created by Spanish tourists has lifted 21 provinces above pre-pandemic levels. And the districts that benefited the most with improved data from July 2019 were;

  • Malaga +35.2% with 376,551 visits
  • Gipuzkoa +35.1% with 79,138 travellers
  • Tarragona +26.9% with 300,440
  • Girona +25.7% with 265,737 
  • Lugo +19.8% with 73,885
  • Cádiz +15.6% with 291,427
  • Balearic Islands +15.6% 

However, the fever by Spanish tourists this summer has not favoured all areas equally. In terms of regions, Madrid has been the most affected, with 160,000 fewer visitors compared to 2019. This is a decrease of 30.4%. Furthermore, the capital traditionally receives a significant number of visitors from congress tourism. This is a sector that is recovering less strongly than the leisure sector. Besides Madrid, Cantabria, Castilla y León, La Rioja, Navarra, Extremadura, Aragon and Castilla-La Mancha also failed to reach their pre-pandemic records. 

Overnight stays 

With regard to overnight stays – the sum of nights spent by the total number of tourists in a hotel – the picture is very similar. Andalucia, with nearly 4 million overnight stays by Spaniards, and Catalonia, with 2.2 million, lead the list at the provincial level, led by Málaga with nearly 1.2 million overnight stays and Alicante with 1.1. 

Absence of foreign tourists is blocking recovery 

In any case, the record numbers of Spanish tourists is not enough to close the huge hole. This is the second consecutive season foreign tourists have stayed home. Although 2,791,604 travellers arrived from outside Spain’s borders in July, 146% more than last year, the figure is still a long way from the 6,455,207 received in July 2019. In other words, the sector has only managed to regain 43.2% of its pre-pandemic foreign tourists. 

The low arrival of foreigners meant that Spain only received a total of 8,565,366 visitors, both domestic and foreign tourists. That’s 70.6% from July 2019. 

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