After many years when the number of foreign visitors to Spain continued to rise non stop and the Mediterranean coastline suffered the devastating effects of mass tourism it appears that the boom years for Spanish tourism have come to an abrupt end.
The tourism industry accounts for 11% of Spain’s GDP and employment, so when the tourism sector suffers a setback it has a very negative effect on the Spanish economy.
Strategic errors committed by the sector as well as the impact of the global economic crisis in Spain and abroad have contributed to the current crisis. Experts in the sector agree that the paradigm needs to change and that for this change to occur many important years have already been lost.
Changes are needed because the demand for tourism in Spain is completely different to what it was just 15 years ago. Nowadays holidays are much shorter as less and less families make the traditional yearly exodus from inland cities to the coast in August, and choices are diversifying to include cultural, rural and gastronomical elements.
It has been obvious for some time that Spain was losing its competitive edge in the tourist market to newer, and often cheaper, destinations, but the need to implement changes in tourism policy was camouflaged by the positive results in the tourism industry. 2007 was a record breaking year for tourism in Spain with 59 million foreign visitors visiting the country. However, the following year this figure fell by 2 million and experts predict that this tendency will continue this year.
During the first quarter of 2009, 12% fewer tourists visited Spain compared to the same period for 2008. This drop in the number of foreign tourists was most noticeable amongst British tourists the number of which fell by 18% during this period. The US has just replaced Spain as the world's second most popular tourist destination for the first time since 11th September 2001. Spain is losing its traditional market to destinations in Eastern Europe or further afield.
Measures aimed at boosting the tourist industry in Spain
Barcelona is still one of Spain’s most popular tourist destinations. The Catalan capital has used both public and private investment to convert the city into a top destination for foreign tourists. It has moved with the times and offers visitors cultural, professional, gastronomic tourism and more. Furthermore many of its hotels with 3 stars or more have recently been renovated. It was also the first city in Spain to introduce a mobile bicycle-lending scheme which enables tourists and citizens to borrow bikes from various points in the city and drop them off at another point.
Bilbao is also a popular destination thanks to the Guggenheim museum which now attracts visitors from all over the world to the city. It has gone from being a tired industrial city to a fast moving modern city offering its visitors many cultural experiences (architecture, art, music, gastronomy...).
Andalucía has made an attempt to move away from it's most popular destinations and promote lesser-known attractions such as Antequera (Málaga), Lucena (Córdoba) and Écija (Sevilla) with positive results in attracting foreign visitors
Lastly the Costa Brava has also made progress in re-inventing its tourist offer and become a popular tourist destination throughout the year. It is also an attractive destination for cultural tourism (Salvador Dalí and Josep Pla), golf enthusiasts and gastro turists thanks to the top restaurants in the Costa Brava (El Bulli, Emporda, San Pau....).