Spain is enjoying a surge in tourism as fears over terrorism drive wary travellers away from destinations in Turkey and North Africa and back to former favourites in southern Europe.
The number of foreign tourist arrivals in Spain in April rose 11.3 per cent to 6.1m compared with the same month in 2015, according to data published on Monday by INE, Spain’s national statistics agency. Total tourist numbers over the first four months of the year rose 13 per cent to 18.1m.
Visitors from the UK were the primary driver behind the increase, with some 4m visiting in the first four months of this year, a 19.4 per cent increase compared with the same period in 2015.
The shift to Spain comes as terrorist attacks in Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt, and warnings from governments for their citizens to avoid travel to some destinations in those countries, have led many seeking an inexpensive beach holiday to look elsewhere.
“Booking behavior really changed after those attacks. Bookings are moving from Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia to Spain, and also to Bulgaria and Greece,” said Dörte Nordbeck, head of travel and logistics, Germany, at GfK, which tracks travel bookings across Europe.
The attack in June last year in the Tunisian town of Sousse, in which a gunman killed 38 tourists, brought the country’s tourism industry to a halt. Meanwhile Turkey, which has been hit by a spate of bombings and cooling relations with Russia — a main source of tourism to the country — suffered its worst drop in visitor numbers since 1999, with arrivals in April falling 28 per cent to 1.75m.
Mainland Spain and the Balearic and Canary Islands have been among the main beneficiaries. Reporting results for the six months ending March 31 recently, Thomas Cook Group, the UK-based travel agent, said its summer 2016 bookings to Spain’s Balearic Islands were up 14 per cent compared with last year while those to the Canaries were up 23 per cent. Overall summer bookings were down 5 per cent, but up 6 per cent excluding Turkey, the company said.
“Thomas Cook is trading well to destinations other than Turkey, with particularly strong bookings to Spain and the US,” Peter Fankhauser, Thomas Cook chief executive, said at the time. “However demand for Turkey — our second-largest market last year — remains significantly below last year’s levels.”
Tui Group, the world’s largest tourism operator, has also warned of substantial drops in demand for Turkey and North Africa. In November, Tui suspended trips to the popular Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh after a bomb brought down a Russian airliner over the Sinai desert, and 33 of the company’s customers were killed in the Sousse attack.
But Ramón Estalella, secretary-general of Cehat, Spain’s hoteliers union, said security fears over terrorism were not the only reason for the wave of UK tourists visiting Spain. The increase in tourism to the Canary Islands, where 38.3 per cent of the 4.5m visitors in the first four months of 2016 came from the UK, could be explained largely by a movement of sunseekers away from Egypt, he said.
But UK visitors also made up 10.7 per cent of the 4.2m foreign tourists visiting Catalonia — not primarily a beach destination — in the same period.
Accessible prices, good marketing, and word of mouth were behind much of the increase, he said: “There are a big number of British tourists who go to Catalonia to visit Barcelona and to ski,” he said. “The tourists are not just going to islands but also to cities. And that has nothing to do with Tunisia.”
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