Spain’s tourist numbers up in 2021 but still fall short of pre-Covid levels

Tourist arrivals in Spain leapt in the first nine months of 2021 compared with the previous year, but still remained far below pre-Covid levels, official data showed on Wednesday.

Spain's tourist numbers up in 2021 but still fall short of pre-Covid levels
A tourist couple in the Dalt Vila neighbourhood of Ibiza. A total of 4.7 million tourists visited Spain in September 2021. Photo: JAIME REINA / AFP

During the period, Spain welcomed 19.7 million tourists, an increase of 17.2 percent over the figures for same period in 2020, the National Statistics Institute (INE) calculated.

Prior to the pandemic — when Spain was the world’s number-two tourist destination and the sector accounted for some 12 percent of its economy — nearly 70 million people visited in the first nine months of 2019, the INE said.

Although the data point to an improvement in the tourism sector, they fall far short of the government’s forecast for some 45 million visitors this year — approximately half that of 2019.

The figures “confirm that the recovery of international tourism is under way and that in 2022 we could return to pre-pandemic levels,” said Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto.

In September, tourist arrivals stood at 4.7 million, an increase of more than 300 percent from the same month in 2020.

Maroto said Spain was hoping to welcome between “10.7 and 10.9 million” visitors in the last three months of the year.

In the first nine months, the largest number of visitors were French, accounting for more than four million arrivals, followed by Germans who
made up 3.4 million visits, and Britons who accounted for 2.3 million.

In the same period, the most popular destinations were the Balearic Isles, the northeastern region of Catalonia, and Andalusia in the south, the INE said.

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Spain eases Covid entry for unvaccinated tourists

Spain on Saturday eased Covid entry rules for unvaccinated tourists from outside the European Union, in a boost for the key tourism sector ahead of the peak summer holidays.

Spain eases Covid entry for unvaccinated tourists

Until now travellers from outside the bloc — including Spain’s main tourism market Britain — could only enter with proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19.

But as of Saturday visitors from outside of the EU will also be allowed to enter Spain with a negative Covid test result, the transport ministry said in a statement.

PCR tests must be carried out in the 72 hours prior to departure to Spain or an antigen test 24 hours prior to departure.

Tourism Minister Maria Reyes Maroto said the “new phase of the pandemic” meant the country was able to relax the rules by equating non-EU travellers with those of the bloc.

“This is excellent news, much awaited by the tourism sector, which will make it easier for tourists outside of Europe to visit us during the high season,” she added in the statement.

Children under the age of 12 are exempt from submitting any type of certificate.

With sunny beaches and a rich architectural heritage, Spain was the world’s second most visited country before the pandemic, with 83.5 million foreign visitors in 2019.

But international travel restrictions related to the pandemic brought Spain’s tourism sector to its knees in 2020 as it welcomed just 19 million tourists.

The figure rose to 31.1 million in 2021, far below the government forecast of 45 million arrivals.

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