Spain: record attendance this summer… and turbulence in the fall

"The travel fever that has spread throughout Europe in recent months" has led to a "metarous rebound in tourist numbers", assured the Spanish employers' organization Exceltur on Wednesday.

Second world tourist destination before the Covid-19 pandemic, Spain plans to return this summer to the record attendance levels of 2019. According to the Spanish Ministry of Tourism, 22.7 million tourists went there during the first five months of 2022, i.e. seven times more than over the same period of 2021. And this dynamic should continue during the summer season. "The number of reservations" suggests "good prospects for the high season", said Spanish Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto on Monday. “After two long years” of pandemic, “we are going to experience a normal summer again,” insisted Fernando Valdes, Secretary of State for Tourism Affairs.

According to Exceltur, the months of July and August could even be "similar" to those of 2019, a record year for Spain in terms of attendance. “European but also Spanish demand is very strong” and should benefit “the entire sector”, underlines its vice-president José Luis Zoreda. An opinion shared by professionals, especially on the coast. "Everything suggests that we are going to have one of the best summers in our history", rejoices after AFP Diego Salinas, manager of the Association of bars, restaurants and cafeterias of Benidorm, emblematic seaside resort of the Costa white.

Javier Ibáñez, economist at Caixabank, is a little less optimistic: he forecasts Spain's tourism GDP at "a level similar to that of 2017" which had been a little worse than 2019.

According to Exceltur, the GDP generated by tourism should thus reach 151.8 billion euros this year, or 10 billion more than the initial forecast. This figure is slightly lower than that of 2019 (155 billion), but a very strong increase compared to 2020 (52 billion) and 2021 (88 billion).

The destinations that should benefit the most from this recovery are the Andalusian coast (+7.4% compared to 2019), the Canary Islands (+3.5%) and the Balearic Islands (+3.6%). The most optimistic business sub-sectors on their outlook are leisure parks (+7.4%) and car rental companies (+1.7%).

Soaring prices worry

This strong recovery is not without concern, however, due in particular to the problems of overcrowding which have caused chaos in several airports in the country in recent weeks and revived the controversy over the mass tourism model.

This "explosion in tourist demand" can cause problems of "saturation", at the origin of "controversies between residents and tourists", concedes José Luis Zoreda. A situation that could ultimately “harm the reputation” of tourist Spain, he adds.

Beyond this problem, it is the global surge in prices that is causing tension: this "inflationary spiral", marked by a sharp rise in energy and food costs, is severely limiting "the margins of companies", warns Exceltur, which points to a source of "uncertainty".

Could this surge in prices halt the recovery, by weighing down the purchasing power of consumers? If the sector has shown resilience so far, the economic slowdown caused by the war in Ukraine "will affect" tourism, concedes Javier Ibáñez, of Caixabank.

With the risk of witnessing a new slowdown when the summer is over. “There are a lot of geopolitical and economic uncertainties in the medium term for tourism”, judge Exceltur, for whom “the take-off” observed this summer risks being followed by “turbulence during the fall”.

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