Tourism in the economy

Tourism is one of the mainstays of the Spanish economy and an outstanding driver of social development. It accounts for 11.1% of the GDP and 13% of employment. Tourism continues to contribute substantially to the offsetting of the country’s trade deficit with tourism receipts amounting to EUR 54.5 billion (up 7.1% from 2015).

With 75.3 million tourist arrivals (up 10.5%) and EUR 54.7 billion in international travel receipts (up 7.2%) in 2016, Spain ranked as the third largest destination worldwide and the second largest in terms of receipts. Spanish domestic tourism is also on the rise.

In relation to inbound markets, Chinese and Russian tourists are increasing every year with improvements in air connectivity and international relations at governmental levels.

In 2017, and for the second consecutive time, the World Economic Forum declared Spain as the top country for tourism competitiveness.

Tourism governance and funding

National responsibility for tourism lies within the newly named Ministry of Energy, Tourism and Digital Agenda (“the Ministry”) through the State Secretariat for Tourism. This name change reflects the growing interest in innovation and digital technology in the sector.

The State’s role is in international relations, the promotion and marketing of tourism abroad, tourism policy, the overall regulation of tourism activity and national economic planning in which tourism is a key component. The State Secretariat is responsible for developing, coordinating and implementing tourism policy that falls within the sphere of the central government’s responsibility, as well as institutional relations at national and international level. The Secretariat for Tourism coordinates three entities at national level: Turespaña, Paradores de Turismo S.A. and SEGITTUR (State Society for the Management of Innovation and Tourism Technologies).

Turespaña is an autonomous body attached to the Ministry, carrying out its activity abroad through the network of Spanish Tourism Offices supported by Spain’s embassies and consulates. Its remit includes:

  • Tourism promotion in international markets in collaboration with the regional authorities (Comunidades Autónomas), local authorities and the private sector,

  • Drawing up tourism policy in collaboration with other state organisations, public authorities and the private sector,

  • Supporting Spanish tourism firms abroad and also expediting international tourism co‐operation and relations,

  • Analysing and disseminating knowledge and intelligence for the tourism economy,

  • Drawing up plans and programmes to foster innovation, quality, sustainability and competitiveness of tourism products and destinations,

  • Driving the modernisation of the tourism sector, improving its technological capacity and enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of management processes,

  • Strategy and investment for the Paradores de Turismo S.A.

Spain: Organisational chart of tourism bodies

Source: OECD, adapted from Ministry of Energy, Tourism & Digital Agenda, 2018.

Paradores de Turismo S.A. is a public corporation, whose origin dates back to 1930, that runs the state-owned hotel network. There are now 95 establishments, employing 3 500 people, most of which are located in historic sites.

SEGITTUR is a state-owned company responsible for promoting research and development for innovation and new technologies in the Spanish tourism industry, in both the public and private sectors. It generates and manages the technology, knowledge and innovation necessary to enhance competitiveness, quality and sustainability in the environmental, economic and social aspects of tourism.

The 17 Autonomous Regions are responsible for the promotion and regulation of tourism within their own territories. Local entities (provinces and municipalities) manage their own tourism interests, mainly in terms of promotion and dissemination of information.

The mechanisms established between the State and the regional administrations are vital for coordination and to help foster competitiveness in the private sector. The main coordination instruments between public and private tourism stakeholders are the:

  • Sectoral Tourism Conference, a collegiate, advisory and executive coordination body, which brings together public representatives from central government and the autonomous regions with tourism responsibilities.

  • Spanish Tourism Council, an advisory body which brings together all the territorial tourism administrations (state, regions and provinces/cities) and the private sector i.e. chambers of trade, the National Employers’ Association (CEOE), professional associations, trade unions and a wide spectrum of tourism professionals.

  • Inter-Ministerial Committee for Tourism, whose members represent those national ministries that have responsibility for tourism related matters.

  • Advisory Council of Turespaña, established in 2013 to enhance collaboration with the private sector. It comprises 11 members, 5 of which come from the private sector.

The national administration (Spanish Secretariat for Tourism) had a budget of EUR 332.9 million for 2016 (up from EUR 323.7 million in 2015). In addition, the 17 Autonomous Regions and local administrations also contribute a significant share of the overall expenditure on tourism.

Tourism policies and programmes

The Spanish Secretariat of Tourism is working on a new national strategy. Priorities include the diversification of products, sustainability and a focus on key market segments e.g. the “cosmopolitans” with higher spending power and interest in culture, art, special experiences, gastronomy and shopping.

The Spanish tourism development model is based on sustainability, innovation and knowledge, digitalisation, specialisation and quality. Sustainability involves better returns from an enhanced, quality experience and longer stays. Sustainable tourism development also involves greater innovation in the use of data, digitalisation and “Smart” tourism destinations. Digitalisation for all subsectors of the tourism chain is key to modernisation of the sector. In this context, the Spanish Secretariat for Tourism organised, together with UNWTO, the first International Congress on Smart Destinations in February 2017 in Murcia, Spain.

SEGITTUR is leading the “Smart Destinations” project promoted by the Ministry. This project aims to improve the position of Spain as a world tourism destination. The methodology fosters innovation, sustainability and competitiveness at a local level through the development and deployment of ICT with the aim of creating differentiated and highly competitive services (Box 2.4).

Statistical profile

Table 1. Spain: Domestic, inbound and outbound tourism

Table 2. Spain: Enterprises and employment in tourism

Table 3. Spain: Internal tourism consumption
Million EUR