A good climate, friendly people, an abundant cultural heritage, gastronomic richness and landscapes including everything from beaches with crystal-clear water to rugged mountains. Spain has all the ingredients to be a perfect tourist destination. And the figures show that’s exactly what it is.
In 2018 Spain received a record number of 82.8 million foreign visitors, according to the National Statistics Institute (INE), making it the third ranked country in the world in terms of the number of tourists – only behind France and the USA – and the second ranked in terms of revenue which also obtained a record of 89,856 million Euros.
It came in second place according to the World Tourism Organisation in its report UNWTO Tourism Highlights, from 2018, only surpassed by France and ahead of countries like the USA and China. For six consecutive years now there has been a record numbers of visitors, coming manily from the UK, Germany and France.
A vast cultural heritage
One of the main attractions for tourists in Spain is its overwhelming cultural heritage. It is the third ranked country in the world with the most places declared as Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO (only behind Italy and China). The Córdoba mosque, the Alhambra in Granada, the aqueduct in Segovia, the Burgos cathedral, the works of Gaudí in Barcelona and San Cristóbal de La Laguna in Tenerife are just some of the 47 places singled out for their exceptional universal value.
UNESCO has also designated 18 Spanish cultural traditions or expressions as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. These include the Mediterranean diet, flamenco, the Courtyards of Córdoba, the Fallas of Valencia and the Tamborradas. We are the fourth ranked country with the most designations of this type.
With all this potential, it is no surprise that the US publication US News & World Report regards Spain as the third ranked country in terms of cultural influence worldwide, only behind Italy and France. This was taken from the results of more than 20,000 interviews of people from 80 countries, highlighting the cultural legacy of Spain from Velázquez, Goya and Picasso to Flamenco dancing and music, as well as Don Quijote from Cervantes.
Gastronomy: more than just gazpacho and paella
Spanish cuisine has also gained in popularity. According to the report Gastronomy in the Spanish economy complied by KPMG in 2019, in recent years gastronomic tourism has grown and now exceeds 15%. In other words, 15 out of every 100 tourists come to Spain for its gastronomy. And they don’t come in vain as it is ranked the 5th country in the world with the most Michelín stars and the country with the most restaurants onThe World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, a total of 7, 3 of which feature in the top 10.
Spain is also the country with the largest number of Biosphere Reserves in the world. A total of 49 natural spaces which include terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems designated by UNESCO for its protection and the conservation of biodiversity.The marshes of Odiel, Doñana, the island of La Palma, Cabo de Gata, Sierra Nevada, the Ebro lands and the pastures of Sierra Morena are just some of the zones declared by UNESCO.
It is also a world leader in the number of beaches with a blue flag: 696 in total, 590 of them are beaches and 101 are marinas. An award which has been granted every year since 1987 by the European Foundation for Environmental Education to beaches and ports that comply with a series of environmental conditions and installations such as the quality of bathing water, environmental information and education, environmental management and safety, services and facilities. Spain is ranked first, followed by Greece, Turkey, France and Italy.
Security and competitiveness, the keys to success
Another of the institutions that recognises Spain’s value as a tourism asset is the World Economic Forum. In its Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report for 2017 it concluded that out of the 136 countries analysed, Spain is the one of the most competitive in tourism. In other words, the factors and policies that allow the sustainable development of the travel and tourism sector, contribute to the development and competitiveness of the country. The report highlights the tourism infrastructure and the cultural assets.
A key element for millions of people when they travel to another country is security. According to US News, in 2018 Spain was ranked first out of a total of 80 countries as the best destination in which to travel alone, surpassing Italy and New Zealand.
A perception of Spain as a safe country which is also ratified by the Barometer of the Image of Spain 2018 of the Elcano Royal Institute. Security is one of the factors for Spain which is most highly rated by foreigners.
So it’s no surprise then that Spain is the number 1 destination for students on Erasmus grants, according to the Erasmus+ annual report from the European Commission. Solely in the 2017-2018 academic year, the programme took on 48,595 students, far more than Germany and the UK, up almost 3,500 university students on the previous academic year.
Spain is a major tourism industry leader for so many more reasons than just the beach and the sun. Culture, gastronomy, people, the quality of services, security… Everything points towards the solidity of a sector undergoing constant expansion that projects better than anyone the image of Spain worldwide.
- World Tourism Organisation in its report UNWTO Tourism Highlights.
- Report Gastronomy in the Spanish economy drafted by KPMG in 2019.
- World Economic Forum. In its Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report.
- Erasmus+ annual report from the European Commission.