Pat Hyland - May 27, 2024
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Climate change may alter the traditional tourism patterns in Spain, potentially increasing the number of international tourists visiting northern Spain, where summer temperatures are more moderate.

The Bank of Spain has suggested that the rate of winter arrivals is growing much faster than that of summer arrivals, which could be attributed to this phenomenon. If managed effectively, this shift in tourist flows could reduce the concentration of tourists in popular summer destinations and increase occupancy during the autumn and winter months, presenting new opportunities for the Spanish tourism industry.

The Bank of Spain also highlights Spain's favorable safety rating in the World Economic Forum as a competitive advantage over destinations in the Eastern Mediterranean, especially in the current climate of geopolitical instability.

More Tourists in Winter with Higher Spending

The data shows that in 2023, October, November, and December saw a 10%, 16%, and 25% increase in foreign tourists compared to the same months from 2016 to 2019, before the pandemic. However, the summer months only grew by 1%. In the first quarter of 2024, arrivals exceeded those of the same quarter in the years between 2016 and 2019 by 22%.

According to the data, international tourism was highly concentrated in both time and geographic areas of origin and destination before the pandemic. Almost half of the tourists visited during the summer, and the autonomous communities of the Canary Islands, Balearic Islands, Catalonia, and Andalusia accounted for nearly 80% of all tourists. Additionally, tourists from European countries such as the United Kingdom, France, and Germany predominated.

In recent years, however, there has been a revitalization in international tourist arrivals, particularly during the winter months. The number of overnight stays by foreign guests in northern Spain has increased significantly compared to the archipelagos and the south.

The regions of the Cantabrian Sea, Navarra, and La Rioja experienced growth of over 26% in 2023 compared to pre-pandemic levels. Conversely, the Canary Islands, Balearic Islands, and Andalusia saw decreases of 0.5%, 0.1%, and 0.2%, respectively.

More Diverse Tourist Origins

The origin of tourists has changed since before the pandemic. Previously, most tourists were from Europe, but now there has been a significant increase in tourists from America, especially from the United States. In 2023, the number of tourists from the United States exceeded those received in the years before 2020 by 40%. This adaptability of the Spanish tourism industry to changes in tourist origins should reassure the sector's stakeholders about the industry's ability to respond to evolving market conditions.

Additionally, there has been moderate growth in tourists from neighboring countries, such as France (+5%) and Italy (+14%), while the central issuing countries, the United Kingdom and Germany, have seen declines of 5%.

There is also an increased interest in high-category hotels (four and five stars), accompanied by increased availability of rooms in this segment. As a result, this has led to higher average spending per tourist.

According to the Hotel Occupancy Survey, vacancies have increased in higher category establishments, which is 10% above the average level of 2016-2019. This is compared to the decline experienced by establishments in other categories, which still need to recover their pre-pandemic levels.

Uncertainty for the Tourism Future

Experts discuss the uncertainty of the future trend, despite the potential for further improvement in the coming years. Business tourism in Spain, being less affected by seasonal variations, was 3% below pre-pandemic levels in 2023, according to INE data. On the other hand, some countries have yet to reach their pre-pandemic figures, such as Japan, which also has a higher average expenditure per tourist. Moreover, the gradual recovery of European economies following the energy crisis and improved incomes could provide additional short- and medium-term support.

The Bank of Spain has cautioned about uncertainties in the future as tourist flows are influenced by geopolitical tensions and the global economy. Additionally, the tourism sector is confronted with challenges such as energy transition, climate change, and global warming, which Spain is particularly exposed to.

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