Spain expects foreign tourist arrivals to drop by up to 10 percent this year due largely to the global economic downturn, Industry and Tourism Minister Miguel Sebastian said.
“Our forecast is that the end of the year will be better than the data that we are seeing now. While we will close with a decline in arrivals it will not be more than 10 percent,” he told reporters after meeting with sector leaders in the holiday island of Palma de Mallorca.
The decline is due mostly to a sharp fall in the number of visitors from Britain, Spain’s main source of foreign visitors, because of the drop in the value of the pound, and severe recession, he added.
The number of foreign tourists who visited Spain fell 11.4 percent during the first half of 2009 over the same time last year to 23.6 million, according to government data released earlier in the week.
The number of British tourists, who account for one-quarter of all visitors to Spain, dropped 16.6 percent during the period while the number of German tourists fell 11 percent.
Germany is the second most important source of tourists to Spain, accounting for 18 percent of all visitors to the country.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s socialist government approved Friday a new stimulus package for the tourism sector worth EUR one billion (USD 1.4 billion).
The new aid package brings the total amount alloted to the sector so far this year to two billion euros, Sebastian said.
The government is also seeking to attract more tourists from growing markets such as Russia and China and develop rural and cultural tourism to compensate for a decline in the number of sunseekers.
“We are seeking through rural development, through new products like scientific tourism, cultural tourism, gastronomic tourism, to raise tourism revenues through better quality,” Sebastian told public television TVE.
Spain saw a huge boom in tourism development in the 1960s and 70s, which led it to becoming one of the world’s top destinations.
But the country lost its spot as the second-most visited country in the world to the United States last year, according to the United Nations’ World Tourism Organisation.
France remained the world’s most popular holiday destination.
Spain received 57.4 million visitors last year, a 2.6 percent drop from 2007 and the first fall since the current record-keeping system was introduced in 1995.
The emergence of cheaper sunshine destinations in other Mediterranean countries like Turkey and Tunisia and the declining popularity of package beach holidays which Spain helped pioneer are other factors blamed for the decline in tourist arrivals.
The tourism sector accounts for about 11 percent of Spain’s jobs and gross domestic product, with the bulk of the industry’s income generated in Spain’s ageing “sun and beach” destinations that dot its southern coast.