Tourism is one of the main sectors of Spain’s economy and is an outstanding driver of socio-economic development. In 2019, the total effects of tourism (direct and indirect) contributed EUR 155 billion or 12.4% of total GDP. The sector provided 13.5% of total employment. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism’s total contribution to GDP more than halved to 5.5%. Tourism remained an important employment contributor, providing 12% of Spain’s total employment.

In 2019, international tourists reached 83.5 million, and tourist expenditure was EUR 84.5 billion. The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic saw international tourists fall 77.3% to 18.9 million in 2020, while expenditure hit EUR 22.1 billion, down 73.9%. There was a slight recovery in 2021, but international tourists still remained 62.7% below 2019 levels at 31.2 million tourists.

Domestic tourists were also significantly impacted, falling 45.5% to 74.8 million tourists in 2020. Similar to international tourism, domestic tourism rebounded in 2021, increasing 40% to 107.7 million tourists but remaining 21% below pre-pandemic levels.

Spain is projecting a tourism recovery back to pre-pandemic levels in 2023.

The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism has been responsible for tourism since 2018. The State Secretariat for Tourism continues to be responsible for defining, developing, co-ordinating and implementing tourism policy within the remit of the central government´s responsibility and related institutions at national and international levels. The State Secretariat co-ordinates three organisations at the national level: Turespaña, Paradores de Turismo and SEGITTUR.

Turespaña is an autonomous body attached to the Ministry and is responsible for carrying out the international tourism marketing and promotion of Spain abroad. It undertakes this role using an international network of 33 tourism offices that support the implementation of the agreed marketing plan. Paradores de Turismo is a public company that runs the state-owned hotel network. Most establishments are located in historic sites, national parks or protected areas. There are now 97 establishments employing over 4 000 people. The Organisation for Innovation and Management of Tourism Technology (SEGITTUR) is a public sector body responsible for developing new tourism technologies in the 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 and the private sector are key. Entities that play an important role in Spanish tourism policy include:

  • The Sectoral Tourism Conference: an advisory and executive co-ordination body bringing together high-level public sector tourism representatives from central government and the autonomous regions. It is chaired by the Minister for Tourism and analyses and debates the key policy issues and regulations affecting tourism.

  • The Spanish Tourism Council (CONESTUR): an advisory body which brings together tourism administrations (state, regions and provinces/cities) and the private sector, such as chambers of trade, the National Employers’ Association, professional associations, trade unions and a wide spectrum of tourism professionals.

  • The Inter-Ministerial Committee for Tourism: represents national ministries responsible for tourism-related matters.

  • The Advisory Council of Turespaña: comprises 11 members, five of which come from the private sector, and assists Turespaña in defining and implementing actions and strategies to market Spain abroad.

The State Secretariat for Tourism had an overall budget of EUR 1.3 billion for 2021. A large portion of the budget (81%) is financed by Next Generation EU and the European Recovery Fund, with the rest coming from the general public budget. The current budget for 2022 is EUR 1.7 billion. Of this, EUR 1.56 billion is allocated to implementing the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan for Tourism.

As a lesson learned from the pandemic, Spain has a core objective to transform and modernise the tourism sector by increasing its competitiveness and resilience. The aim is to recover to pre-COVID-19 levels and build a more sustainable, diversified and profitable tourism model.

Spain has defined a range of strategic action areas encouraging investments in innovation, energy efficiency and the green transition, as well as enhancing the effectiveness of policies supporting research. Further actions include sustaining the economy, supporting employment and skills development, improving access to digital learning and broader digitalisation.

The Tourism Sustainability Strategy aims to strengthen the environmental, socio-economic and regional sustainability of tourism and targets tourist destinations, social partners and private operators in the sector to stimulate:

  • Green transition: including actions concerning environmental restoration, management and public use of protected natural areas, the implementation of tourism certification systems and circular economy measures and investment in cycling and walking paths.

  • Energy efficiency: including actions to reduce CO2 emissions in buildings, public infrastructure and services, implement environmental technologies and improve urban environments.

  • Digital transformation: including actions to digitise services for tourists at destinations, develop the digital footprint of the destination and improve tourism demand management (see box below).

  • Competitiveness transformation: improving local tourism infrastructures and fostering job creation through developing new tourism products relating to culture, nature, gastronomy, traditional crafts and industrial tourism services.

The Tourism Resilience Strategy for the extra-peninsular territories (Canary and Balearic Islands and Ceuta and Melilla) aims to improve the competitiveness and capacity of these territories to adapt to changes in international markets. Investments have been made in public infrastructure, environmental management, waste treatment, public services, training, and the development of alternative tourism products. The Strategy also creates incentives to facilitate the connectivity of these territories and for tourism companies to operate outside the peak seasons. There are also special actions to boost competitiveness by developing new tourism products aligned with the Sustainable Tourism Strategy, such as energy efficiency and circular economy projects.

The National Food and Wine Tourism Plan, which falls within the plan for the modernisation and competitiveness of the tourism sector, will have an investment of EUR 68.6 million which includes tourism sustainability plans in food and wine destinations (EUR 51.4 million), the Spain Tourism Experiences Programme (EUR 10 million), and the International Promotion Programme (EUR 2.2 million). The Plan aims to promote food and wine destinations by financing destination sustainability plans, generating sustainable and diverse gastronomic tourism experiences, and improving worker training and skills.

In 2022, Spain started a multiannual programme to rehabilitate historical heritage buildings in the frame of the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan for Tourism. The budget of this project is EUR 109 million.

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