Spain’s tourism sector hopes to turn page on gloomy 2021

Tourism activity remained muted in Spain last year, well below its pre-pandemic levels, industry experts said Thursday, predicting a stronger recovery this year once the Omicron wave passes.

British tourists are disguised as they take part in
British tourists are disguised as they take part in "Fancy Dress Party" event in the seaside resort of Benidorm on the eastern coast of Spain, on November 18, 2021. (Photo by JOSE JORDAN / AFP)

In total, tourism generated 88.5 billion euros in Spain in 2021, an increase of 36 billion euros on the figure for 2020, but some 43 percent lower than in 2019, the Exceltur tourism association said.

Although tourism improved following the catastrophic levels of 2020 when the pandemic first hit, the recovery was “partial” and “full of ups and downs”, Exceltur vice-president Jose Luis Zoreda told a news conference.

Health restrictions early on in 2021 meant tourism activity remained “paralysed” until May, and following a rebound over the summer it tailed off again at the end of November with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

International tourism was worst hit, with only 31 million people visiting Spain, according to Exceltur, a figure far from the government’s aim of attracting 45 million visitors — or around half of the arrivals seen in 2019.

Before the pandemic, Spain was the world’s second most popular tourist destination after France, but it has suffered particularly from the drop in British travellers who had previously been the largest national group of visitors.

“Those who suffered the most were travel agencies, airlines and urban hotels” in places like Barcelona and Madrid, said Zoreda.

But Exceltur said it saw the situation improving this year with the passing of the Omicron wave that has slowed the sector’s recovery.

Oscar Perelli, head of research for Exceltur said the industry would likely experience “a very complex first quarter” with sales a third lower than 2019 levels, but was expecting to see “a marked upturn from April onwards”.

Exceltur said it expected the sector to generate 135 billion euros this year, or 10.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), compared with 5.5 percent in 2020 and 7.4 percent last year.

Before the pandemic, tourism represented 12.4 percent of the Spanish economy, official statistics showed.

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TRAVEL: Spain extends ban on unvaccinated non-EU tourists

Britons, Americans and other non-EU/Schengen travellers who are neither vaccinated nor recently recovered from Covid-19 will not be able to visit Spain for tourism for at least another month, Spanish authorities have confirmed.

TRAVEL: Spain extends ban on unvaccinated non-EU tourists

The Spanish government has again extended temporary restrictions for non-essential travel (including tourism) from most third countries for another month, until June 15th 2022.

That means that non-EU/Schengen adults who reside outside of the EU and who haven’t been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or recovered from the illness in the past six months cannot go on holiday to Spain during the next month. 

Therefore, Spain continues to not accept negative Covid-19 tests from British, American, Canadian, Indian or other third-country nationals who are neither vaccinated nor recently recovered. 

There had been hopes that the shorter two-week extension to the ban on non-essential travel issued on April 30th, as well as talk of the “orderly and progressive reopening” of the country’s borders, would mean that unvaccinated third country nationals would be allowed into Spain in May.

But in the end, Saturday May 14th’s state bulletin confirmed that Spain will keep the same measures in place for another 31 days, stating that they “will eventually be modified to respond to a change of circumstances or to new recommendations in the context of the European Union”.

Spain’s ban on unvaccinated non-EU travellers is arguably the last major Covid-19 restriction in place in the country, and other EU countries such as Sweden, Poland, Denmark, Czech Republic and Ireland are allowing unvaccinated tourists in.

This latest announcement by the Spanish government marks the umpteenth extension to non-essential travel from outside of the EU/Schengen area over the past two years of the pandemic, the previous one was due to expire on May 15th. 

But perhaps this extension is the most surprising, as the Spanish health ministry has modified its rulebook to treat Covid-19 like the flu and the country wants to recover the tourism numbers it had pre-pandemic.

The ban affects unvaccinated British tourists in particular, as the UK is still the biggest tourism market for Spain, but Britons’ non-EU status means they have to follow the same Covid-19 travel rules as other third-country nationals.

Vaccinated or recovered third-country travellers

Those who were fully vaccinated against Covid-19 more than two weeks prior to travel to Spain will need to show a valid vaccination certificate with an EMA or WHO approved vaccine.

If their initial vaccination treatment was completed more than 9 months ago (270 days), they’ll need to show they’ve had a Covid-19 booster shot. 

As for non-EU/Schengen travellers who have recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months, they will need to show a recovery certificate to prove this

According to Spain’s Health Ministry, recovery certificates accepted as valid are those “issued at least 11 days after the first positive NAAT or RAT, and up to a maximum of 180 days after the date of sampling”, as well as being issued by the relevant authorities.


In early February, Spanish authorities also decided to start allowing unvaccinated non-EU/Schengen teenagers aged 12 to 17 to visit Spain for tourism if they provided a negative PCR.

Spain continues to have a small list of low-risk third countries whose travellers visiting Spain for non-essential reasons can enter without having to present proof of Covid-19 testing, recovery or vaccination. 

This is updated weekly and can be checked here by clicking on the PDF under “risk and high risk countries/areas”. 

READ ALSO: Can I travel to my second home in Spain if I’m not vaccinated?

If you’re not vaccinated or recovered, the exceptions for travel to Spain from third countries that fall under the non-essential travel restrictions are:

  • You are a resident in the EU or Schengen country.
  • You have a visa for a long duration stay in an EU or Schengen country.
  • You work in transport, such as airline staff or are in a maritime profession.
  • You work in diplomatic, consular, international organisations, military or civil protection or are a member of a humanitarian organisation.
  • You have a student visa for a country in the EU or Schengen zone.
  • You are a highly qualified worker or athlete whose work cannot be postponed or carried out remotely.
  • You are travelling for duly accredited imperative family reasons.
  • You are allowed entry due to force majeure or on humanitarian grounds.
  • And as mentioned earlier in the article, if you have a vaccination certificate that Spain’s Ministry of Health recognises, as well as for any accompanying minors (unless they’re under 12 years of age).

READ ALSO: When do I need to fill out Spain’s Covid health control form for travel?