Tourism is one of the cornerstones of the Spanish economy and an outstanding driver of economic and social development. In 2017 it accounted for 11.8% of GDP and in 2018 sustained 13.5% of employment (or 2.6 million direct jobs). Tourism continues to contribute substantially to offsetting the country's trade deficit with tourism receipts amounting to EUR 62.5 billion, in 2018 – a growth of 3.6% compared with 2017. In 2018, tourist arrivals reached 82.8 million (+1.1% compared to 2017), generating EUR 89.8 billion in international receipts (+3.3% compared to 2017). Travel exports represented  52.3% of total service exports in 2018.

The top three inbound markets for Spain are the United Kingdom (22.4% of tourist arrivals), Germany (13.8%), and France (13.6%). There has been an increase in long-haul inbound travel from markets such as the United States, China and South Korea, largely due to improvements in air connectivity and growth in the global economy.

Spanish domestic tourism is also very significant. In 2018, Spain recorded a total of 425.4 million domestic trips, of which 139.9 million were overnight (+1.1% compared to 2017) and 285.5 million were day visitors (+1.9% from 2017).

National responsibility for tourism lies within the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism since 2018, having previously been under the umbrella of the Ministry of Energy, Tourism and Digital Agenda. The State Secretariat for Tourism continues to be responsible for defining, developing, co-ordinating and implementing tourism policy within the remit of central government’s responsibility, as well as related institutional relations at national and international levels. The State Secretariat co-ordinates three organisations at national level:

  • Turespaña, which is an autonomous body attached to the Ministry, responsible for carrying out the international tourism marketing and promotion of Spain. It leverages an international network of 33 tourism offices that support the implementation of the agreed marketing plan.

  • Paradores de Turismo, a public company that runs the state-owned hotel network with most of the establishments being located in historic sites, national parks or protected areas. There are now 97 establishments employing over 4 000 people.

  • State Organisation for Innovation and Tourism Technology Management (SEGITTUR), a public sector body responsible for the development of new technologies in the Spanish tourism industry, in both public and private sectors. It researches and manages technology, knowledge and innovation to enhance the competitiveness, quality and sustainability of all aspects of tourism.

Co-ordinating mechanisms between the central and regional administrations are also important, given the size of the tourism economy. The 17 autonomous regions are responsible for the regulation and promotion of tourism within their territories. Local level entities, such as provinces and municipalities, manage their tourism interests mainly in terms of promotion and dissemination of visitor information.

A recent law relating to the legal obligations of the public sector highlights a range of fora established for effective co-ordination between tourism and related ministries, and key stakeholders – see box below.

The State Secretariat for Tourism had an overall budget of EUR 336 million for 2018. In addition, the 17 autonomous regions and other bodies also contribute significantly to the overall expenditure on tourism.

Tourism policy in Spain is moving the Spanish tourism model towards the principles of sustainability, innovation and knowledge. The broad aim is to develop a smart and specialised high quality product, fit for the digital age. Sustainability means greater revenues and profits, improvement in the quality of experience, reduced seasonality and more efficient resource utilisation. Sustainable and inclusive tourism development demands a greater degree of innovation in the use of big data, digitalisation and smart tourism destinations.

Recently, Spain has begun to prepare a new Strategy of Sustainable Tourism for 2030. The aim is to transform Spanish tourism towards a model of both sustained and sustainable growth to maintain the country’s leading position in tourism, while protecting the assets on which the sector depends. The Strategy will contribute to the achievement of UN Sustainable Development Goals and meet both medium and long-term challenges of sustainable tourism in terms of socio-economic, environmental and territorial impacts.

The Strategy proposes that tourism growth should be based on the following five principles:

  • Socio-economic growth - including both a focus on improving business profitability and the equitable distribution of wealth, while at the same time guaranteeing greater sustainability by encouraging both the commercial sector and destinations to change and adapt.

  • Protection of natural and cultural resources - providing the foundation for the conservation of valuable heritage, addressing the need for ecological improvement, and promotion of the underlying environmental values as part of the tourism experience.

  • Social benefit - contributing directly to the great challenges of Spanish society, such as growing rural depopulation and inequality, tourism will be managed as an engine of economic and social development with the benefits and burdens distributed more equitably.

  • Wide participation and involvement - as tourism is a cross-cutting sector that involves many stakeholders mechanisms will be designed to ensure strong governance between administrations at all levels together with the tourism industry.

  • Permanent adaptation - the Strategy is not only concerned with growth and improvement but is also focused on supporting the sector to have the capacity to respond to a highly dynamic environment, illustrated by new and emerging business models, changing customer motivations and increasing competition.

Digitalisation and modernisation of all the various elements of the sector is a high priority with work to develop smart tourism destinations overseen by SEGITTUR, which is leading the Smart Tourist Destinations project. This aims to improve the position of Spain as a leading global tourism destination, seeking new mechanisms to boost destination innovation through the deployment of information and communication technologies in order to create different and highly competitive services.

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