MADRID: In the late 1960s, Spain broke its isolation from the rest of Europe and attracted foreign tourists to the Spanish sun and sea. It was the start of a thriving tourism industry. More than fifty years and a pandemic later, tourist figures returned to their original levels. Recovery for the industry could take until the summer of 2022.
From the start of the legendary “Spain is different” campaign, the tourism sector has never grown as fast as in Spain. Records were broken every year. Absolute highs occured in the past seven years, until coronavirus hit the country in early 2020. The pandemic brought the industry to a near-complete standstill for the first time in half a century.
Loss of turnover of more than €72 billion
In 2020, 18.9 million foreign tourists came to Spain. These tourist figures were a drop of 77% on the previous year (that’s 64 million fewer tourists), according to the Spanish statistics agency INE. Instead of the €92.258 billion the tourism sector converted in 2019, the figure was just under €19.75 billion in 2020. That’s a loss of turnover equating to more than €72.5 billion.
Growth stagnated even before the pandemic started
Even before the start of the pandemic, the first signs of an end to the seemingly unstoppable growth were visible. The tourism sector of other Mediterranean countries such as Turkey and Tunisia continued to develop. This led to declining tourist figures for Spain in the first two months of 2020. A few months earlier, the bankruptcy of travel provider Thomas Cook impacted tourism in Spain. A ray of hope was that the tourists who did come to Spain spent more money on average per day.
2020 black year for tourism
The nightmare really started when in mid-March the corona virus turned the main economic sector of Spain upside down. It completely paralysed tourism in April and May, causing millions of employees to lose their jobs, temporarily or permanently. When the borders reopened in the summer months, little was left of the hoped-for recovery with a loss of 31 million tourists and 86% of revenue compared to the same period in 2019. This was mainly the result of the imposed travel ban to Spain by England and Germany, countries which significantly contribute to the tourist influx. In the last months of 2020, only the Canary Islands received tourists from these countries via the special “tourist corridors.” However, that did not last long either as the travel ban returned and this archipelago also lost its high season.
The same turnover as in 1995
For the first time this century, most tourists in Spain came not from England, but from France. Looking at the number of incoming tourists last year, the biggest loss was in Catalonia (over 70% less) and the Canary Islands. However, 2020 was a black year for the entire Spanish tourism sector. The share of tourism in the gross domestic product (GDP) fell from 12% in 2019 to 4% and the total turnover was no higher than that of 1995.
Outlook remains bleak
Despite the vaccination campaign, the outlook for this year is not very promising. No significant recovery is expected until at least the summer. The least optimistic forecast is that it will take until the summer of 2022 before the sector returns to its pre-pandemic level.