The slow return of tourism

Tourism sector closes 2021 with 5.6 million international visitors, less than half the number of 2019

2 min
The Minister of Enterprise and Labor, Roger Torrent, this Wednesday in Madrid.

MADRID"We want [2022] to be the year of tourist reactivation, despite the uncertainties." This is what was expressed this Wednesday by Catalan Enterprise and Employment minister Roger Torrent. Although he did not want to anticipate a specific forecast of how many tourists are expected to arrive this year – "It is too risky," he said – Torrent was optimistic about "consolidating the recovery". But this is a long-distance race for which more than half of the route is still missing: although 2021 ended with the arrival of 5.6 million international visitors (101.3% more than in 2020), the figure is still 62% below pre-pandemic levels, as Torrent explained during the inauguration of the Catalan stand at Fitur international tourism fair, which opened this morning in Madrid

After leaving behind the dire year that was 2020, the tourism sector embraces 2022 with optimism. This is due, on the one hand, to the acceleration of vaccination worldwide and, on the other, to the lower impact that the authorities attribute to the Omicron variant, despite the increase in contagion. "We have a prepared tourism sector," Torrent said after almost two years of living with the covid-19 virus. Now, to meet expectations and "consolidate" the arrival of visitors from other parts of the world, the Generalitat is clear that it is necessary to attract American and Asian travellers. "It is indispensable for survival", they point out from the Catalan Tourism Agency, where they trust that it will be a market that will complement the Central European market.

In fact, international visitors make up half of tourists to Catalonia. According to data from the Generalitat, 49.2% of the tourists who arrived in 2019 were foreigners. Moreover, international visitors spend more money than domestic or Spanish tourists. In 2021 the arrival of international travellers to Catalonia generated just under €5bn up to November (a far cry from the €21.3bn generated in 2019), while average expenditure per foreign person was €954.

All in all, Catalonia was the second region, only behind the Balearic Islands, which received more foreign tourists up to November 2021 (18.4% of the total of the State). Torrent also wanted to highlight the role of Barcelona as a "pole of attraction" and the importance of returning to position itself in the "centre". "[The city] has suffered as much as anyone from the fall in tourism", Torrent lamented. He also ruled out that Madrid could "be a rival".

It is tourism from within Catalonia and Spain that has picked up fastest. In the first case, Catalonia had a total of 8.1 million Catalan tourists up until November last year (still 10% below 2019 levels), while tourists from other parts of Spain were about 4.5 million (17% less than in 2019). Torrent has pointed out that 2022 not only has to be a year of "consolidation" of the figures, but also of a "tourism model which is of higher quality and sustainable from an environmental and social point of view".

Farewell to covid?

Fitur, the most important tourism fair in Europe, which this year will bring together 7,000 participants and has the presence of 107 countries, started up eager to leave behind the fear of covid and recover travel between countries. "We agree with the private sector that this year the recovery will be consolidated," said Spanish Minister of Industry and Tourism Reyes Maroto, who also stressed the importance of "increasing spending but also the quality of tourism." Regarding tourism activity, Maroto announced that 2021 closed with 2.3 million people working in the sector (233,000 more than a year earlier), which, according to the minister, shows the industry's "resilience".