MADRID – Real Madrid’s recruitment of star players like Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Brazil’s Kaka will lead to in increase in visitors from Asia to Spain, a tourism trade body predicted on Wednesday.

Juan Melian, the head of the Tourism Panel which groups about 30 major tourism-related companies, said the arrival of players ‘with an extraordinary media impact in the Asian market would boost the appeal of Madrid and the rest of the country as a holiday destination to thousands of football fans.’

‘Sports serves as a great promotional showcase for any country,’ he added in a statement.

Last month Real signed Ronaldo from Manchester United for a record of around 94 million euros (S$191 million) and Kaka from AC Milan for 65 million euros as the Spanish giants returned to the era of the ‘galacticos’ or ‘superstars’.

Club president Florentino Perez, who was restored at the helm of Real in June elections, was also responsible for a similar policy from 2000-2006 and is splashing the cash again to restore the team’s fortunes.

During his first stint at the club Perez signed Portugal’s Luis Figo, England’s David Beckham, France’s Zinedine Zidane and Brazil’s Ronaldo who drew large crowds during the tours of Asia which Real carried out during the period.

The museum at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium with its trophy room where all the club’s championship cups are displayed is one of the Spanish capital’s key attractions. About 700,000 people visit the museum each year, according to Real.

Melian also predicted that the role which Spanish forward Pau Gasol played in helping the Los Angeles Lakers win the NBA championship this season would help increase the number of visitors to Spain from the United States.

Spain has slipped to third place in the ranking of most-visited countries in the world, behind the United States and France, according to the UN World Tourism Organisation.

The country received 57.4 million tourists in 2008, a 2.6 percent decline over the previous year and the first fall in over a decade, according to national statistics institute INE. Europe accounts for the bulk of all visitors to Spain. The tourism sector accounts for about 11 percent of the country’s jobs and gross domestic product.