Spain Beats the US to Become 2nd Most Visited Country in the World

Barcelona Spain
Barcelona Spain

Barcelona Spain/CC

Spain has become in 2017 the second most visited country in the world after France, passing the United States with 82 million foreign tourists, an increase of 9%, said the head of the Spanish government Mariano Rajoy.

“82 million foreign people visited Spain last year, 9% more than in 2016, generating 87 billion euros in revenue, up 12%,” said the leader Wednesday on the sidelines of a summit of southern European countries focused on immigration.

“We have become the second largest country in terms of visitors and income per tourist,” he said, praising the industry’s “big effort” to “be more competitive.”

Spanish tourism has in fact broken its own record for the fifth consecutive year, despite a year 2017 marked by jihadist attacks in August in Catalonia (16 dead), and the serious political crisis in the region.

In October, the number of tourists fell by almost 5% in one year in Catalonia, against a backdrop of massive demonstrations after the referendum of self-determination was banned.

The slowdown in activity in the last quarter in Catalonia has caused a loss of 319 million euros for the region, said Wednesday the employers’ federation Exceltur, which also expects a decline of 8% of jobs in Catalan tourism in the first quarter of 2018, with hoteliers adapting to the lower demand.

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Catalonia nevertheless remains by far the most visited region of Spain, with more than 18 million tourists between January and November, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

Spain as a whole has benefited from “the sharp rise in air connections, especially since the long-distance markets”, with a particularly strong rise in flights from Argentina (+ 23% over one year), Colombia (+ 21%), Russia (+ 11%) and the United States (+ 10%), said the federation in its statement.

These tourists, who spend on average more than European visitors (British, Germans, French), have increased the average income per visitor by 1.5%, for the first time since 2011, says Exceltur.

Their arrival also counterbalanced the “recovery” of Spain’s major competitors in cheap seaside tourism, Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt.

Many visitors had turned away from these countries hit by attacks in the last two years, for the benefit of Spain. In 2016, Spain had welcomed 75.3 million visitors, just behind the United States (75.6), while France remained clearly ahead with 82.6 million tourists, according to the figures of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), which will publish its new statistics for 2017 on Monday.

The number of visitors to France for 2017 could reach 88 to 89 million people, according to an estimate unveiled in December by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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Paige Driessen

Paige is an Arizona native who loves the outdoor life. She writes about a wide range of topics for The Talking Democrat