Foreigners save Spain’s tourism summer

Spain's tourism sector is talking up a bumper summer helped along by the presence of foreign guests in the country but experts warn it's not all good news for the industry.

Foreigners save Spain's tourism summer
Foreign visitors are coming to spend their money in Spain but the domestic tourism market reamins weak. Photo: Juan Ramon Rodriguez Sosa

Tourism is big business in Spain: in fact it's the biggest. 

The industry accounts for over 10 percent of Spain's gross domestic product (GDP) and more than 11 percent of Spain's workers.

The sector has also appears to have something of a stellar year, with figures from the government's Frontur tourism agency showing average spend was up 6 percent in the first half of 2013.

There was also a bigger than expected rise — 3.9 percent — in the number of foreign visitors to the country in that period.

The summer has been "globally good" summer for Spanish tourism, Economics Professor Juan Antonio Duro told Spain's 20 minutos newspaper on Tuesday.

Duro said the "Egypt effect" was partly responsible for this, a reference to the fact that political unrest had kept visitors away from the North African country.

The professor also cited the strong growth among traditional holidaymakers to Spain including the British and the Germans.

But Duro added that aggressive pricing policies — with prices either holding firm or falling — had kept people coming to Spain.

"These indicators don't have positive economic results," said the professor.

"French tourists are coming in the same numbers but they stay fewer days and look for cheaper options than in other years."

The other dark side of Spain's tourism boom is the weakness of national market, says Manuel Sendino, spokesperson for the Balearic Islands hotel owners' association.

"The Spaniards are missing. We are in a crisis economy and it's about surviving," Sendino said.

Indeed, a study conducted for Spain's Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism shows Spaniards took 86.4 million trips between January and July, or 6.9 percent fewer than a year earlier.

Particularly hard hit are "green" destinations like Galicia and Asturias and cities including Madrid.

The capital saw a 10.7 percent drop in international visitor numbers in July compared to a year earlier.

Rural tourism — a market dominated by domestic visitors — has also taken a beating during the crisis with the sector saying demand in July was very low.

"It's not going to be a good year because the crisis is very strong and there is too much supply," said Jesús Marco, the president of rural tourism organization Asetur.

In terms of general trends in tourism, hotels also appearing to be falling out of favour.

Although Spain had received 34 million tourists to the end of July, the country's hotels only clocked up 37.6 million hotel nights. 

That's just over one night per visitor.

Instead, people are opting to stay in private accommodation — a trend which worries both professor Duro and Asetur president Jesús Marco.

Duro said Spain need to regulate this economic activity while Marco spoke of a system without "quality guarantees" where "people have to bring their own sheets with them".

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