Tourism activity remained subdued in Spain last year, well below pre-pandemic levels, industry experts said on Thursday, predicting a stronger recovery this year once the Omicron wave passes.
In total, tourism generated 88.5 billion euros in Spain in 2021, an increase of 36 billion euros compared to the 2020 figure, but some 43% less than in 2019, said the Exceltur tourist association.
Although tourism has improved from the disastrous levels of 2020 when the pandemic first hit, the recovery has been “partial” and “full of ups and downs”, said Exceltur’s vice president, Jose Luis Zoreda, during a press conference.
Health restrictions at the start of 2021 meant that tourist activity remained “paralyzed” until May, and after a rebound during the summer, it slowed again at the end of November with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
International tourism has been hardest hit, with just 31 million people visiting Spain, according to Exceltur, a figure well short of the government’s target of attracting 45 million visitors – around half of the arrivals seen in 2019.
Before the pandemic, Spain was the second most popular tourist destination in the world after France, but it has been particularly affected by the decline in British travelers who were previously the largest national group of visitors.
“Those who have suffered the most are travel agencies, airlines and city hotels” in places like Barcelona and Madrid, Zoreda said.
But Exceltur said it has seen the situation improve this year with the passage of the Omicron wave which has slowed the recovery of the sector.
Oscar Perelli, head of research at Exceltur, said the industry was likely to experience “a very complex first quarter” with sales down a third from 2019 levels, but expected “a marked recovery from ‘April”.
Exceltur said it expects the sector to generate 135 billion euros this year, or 10.5% of gross domestic product (GDP), compared to 5.5% in 2020 and 7.4% last year.
Before the pandemic, tourism represented 12.4% of the Spanish economy, according to official statistics.