This is how tourism in Spain is changing

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tourism in spain

The tourism sector feared that tourists would increasingly ignore Spain due to the more frequent periods of extreme heat. However, another truth is now emerging. Tourists now visit Spain more often at other times of the year and the cooler north receives more visitors in the hot months.

The intensification of tourism in the cooler months and less heavily visited areas has led to a record number of 85.2 million visitors in 2023. That was 2% more than in the previous record year of 2019. And so far figures show that tourism in Spain is well on its way to surpassing that number by 2024.

Moreover, tourists arrived with greater purchasing power. In real terms (not including inflation), they spent an average of 2.2% more daily. This translated into a boom in the service sectors related to the tourism sector. According to the Bank of Spain‘s analysis, these “explain about half of the total growth – in GDP – in 2023.”

Diversification as a key to success

The Spanish central bank, in a document published on Wednesday, analysed the reasons behind this tourism revival after the recovery from pre-pandemic levels. Of the various causes, “greater diversification”, both in time and geography, was identified as the most important. There is stronger tourism growth in the northern coastal regions such as Cantabria and Asturias and in the cold autumn and winter months. In addition, geopolitical conflicts in the Middle East can also have a positive influence on the flow of tourists.

Foreign tourists in winter months

For years, authorities called for diversification and spread of tourism to achieve growth, but it was only in 2023 that this trend began to emerge. The number of foreign tourists visiting Spain in October, November and December 2023 exceeded the numbers of the same period in the average years 2016-2019 by 10.5%, 16.2% and 25.3% respectively.

Continued growth in 2024

Growth continued in the first three months of 2024, with an increase of more than 20% in the number of foreign travellers compared to the pre-pandemic period. The summer months of June, July, August and September, on the other hand, show much lower growth, an average of only 0.7%. This makes the summer months less dominant: between 2016 and 2019 they attracted 45.9% of tourists, while this dropped to 43.9% in 2023. This decline could continue this year.

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Northern coastal regions benefit

The northern coastal regions are reaping the benefits of this revival. For example, in 2023 the Basque Country received 32.2% more tourists than in the year before the pandemic. This is followed by Asturias with 26.3% more tourists, Galicia (18.4%), Valencia (18.4%), Madrid (15.1%) and Cantabria (10.8%). “Although it is still too early to draw definitive conclusions, climate change could shift tourists to destinations with more moderate temperatures in summer,” the Banco de España suggests.

Seasonal shift and geographic distribution

If this trend continues, concentration will decrease in the busiest summer months and occupancy of beach destinations will increase in the fall and winter months. A study from CaixaBank Research published on January 22 confirms this shift. Tourist expenditure in cooler coastal municipalities grew more strongly than in warmer regions.

Long-term impact of climate change

Although the current reality is different, the Banco de España calls for caution. “Our country is particularly exposed to the physical risks of climate change. As a result, the long-term impact on tourism could be more negative than currently observed.”

Tourists with higher purchasing power

To generate higher added value in tourism, not only a higher number of visitors is needed, but also higher expenditure in higher category accommodations. This also happened after the pandemic. This was partly due to a diversification of the origins of international tourists. In particular, the number of American tourists, who spend more on average, has increased. They also took advantage of the decreased value of the euro against the dollar during that period.

Also read: Where is the capital of rural tourism in Spain?

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