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Weak rouble to hit Russian tourism to Spain

George Mills · 18 Dec 2014, 11:12

Published: 18 Dec 2014 11:12 GMT+01:00

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Tourism has remained a bright spark for Spain during the long years of economic crisis.

While the country's unemployment queues have grown to hit nearly 25 percent and growth has been fragile at best, Spain's tourism sector has continued to expand. 

In 2013, Spain retook the number three spot in world tourism from China, luring a record 60.6 million international visitors, behind only France with 83 million and the United States with 67 million.
Traditional stalwarts like the Brits, the Germans and the French continue to make up the lion's share of international visitors to Spain, but they have now been joined by other groups including the Chinese.
But it's the Russians who have proved the real surprise package. And while Russian tourists made up just 2.6 percent of the total number of visitor arrivals in 2013, their numbers showed the biggest jump, surging 31.6 percent from 2012.
Critically, many of those Russians have climbed abroad the luxury tourism bandwagon in locations including Spain's Costa del Sol but also, notably, in highly popular Barcelona. 
However, a weak rouble now seriously threatens the industry.
Figures from Spain's national tourism agency Frontur show there was a 22 percent drop in the number of visitors from Russia in October, part of an eight percent overall decline in the year to date.
Spanish hotel association Cehat is now predicting a drop of 20 to 22 percent in Russian visitor numbers over the winter, according to tourism magazine Preferente.
"We've seen falls since the start of the year but since the beginning of summer we have seen drops of up to 50 percent and there is no sign things are going to pick up," Luis Sans, owner of the luxury brands store Santa Eulàlia in Barcelona's iconic Paseo de Gràcia told Catalan daily La Vanguardia.  
That's despite Barcelona having remained relatively immune to a fall in the number of Russian tourists, with visitors from the country making a third of all tax-free purchases in the city.
On Catalonia's Costa Brava and Costa Dorada coastlines, however, the situation is more complicated.
"We are really in a difficult situation because many tourism operators are on the point of collapse," said an operator at Serhs, one of the main tourism operators for Russian clients in Spain. 
Story continues below…
"The threat that Russian will stop coming en masse and will only come individually is real," the Serhs spokesperson said. 
"For a season it looks as if we are going to have to forget about being positive in terms of this market," said Sans at  the Santa Eulàlia store.
"It's going to be hard to repeat the opulence of the last two years," he said.

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George Mills (george.mills@thelocal.com)

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