Spain welcomed a record number of tourists in 2023, with around 84 million international visitors going to one of Europe’s most popular destinations. While other countries in the EU still stood below pre-Covid levels and worldwide tourism is only expected to make a full comeback by the end of the year, Spain was one of the countries that led to the tourism sector in the EU to already exceed 2019 figures last year.
The 84 million visitors represent a 17% increase compared to 2022 and are 1% more than the 83.7 million tourists Spain saw in 2019, Tourism Minister Jordi Hereu confirmed on 19 January. However, while the increase in the number of visitors is of only 1%, they spent 17% more than in 2019, amounting €108 billion and accounting for 12.8% of the country’s GDP. “All in all, 2023 has been a very positive year and a record year … we are still on the same path to prosperity”, Hereu said.
Looking ahead to this year, the minister refrained from making any long term predictions, but anticipated 23.2 million foreign visitors in the first quarter, 11% more than in 2023, and a 18% increase in spending. According to estimates from non-profit organization Exceltour (Alliance for Excellence in Tourism), Spain could cash in €200 billion from tourism by the end of the year, increasing GDP contribution to 13.4%.
We have to govern tourism. The whole tourist offer must be regulated and a sustainable mix must be achieved in each area.Jordi Hereu, Spanish Minister of Tourism
On the other hand, Hereu acknowledged the need to also not allow tourism to grow uncontrollably. The country has been at odds with tourism, especially post-pandemic, and the minister highlighted especially the needs to regulate both the growth and type of tourism accommodation and to protect the locals from tourism disruptions as much as possible.
Already form the end of 2022, Mallorca announced it would reduce the number of hotel beds available on the island, in a tourism approach shift to “greater value and less volume”. In April last year, Barcelona Deputy Mayor compared tourists from cruise ships to a “plague of locusts”, looking to limit the number of cruises anchoring at the city’s ports, after already introducing measures against large groups of tourists in 2022.
The fight against overtourism continued over the summer, with Santiago de Compostela launching a “conscious tourism” campaign, while Mayor Goretti Sanmartín announced plans to introduce a tourist tax in 2025. August saw activists using anti-English sentiment in overtourism campaigns, while the latest tourism management news came from San Sebastián in November, announcing plans to ban new hotels and tourist accommodation.