Spain posts 8.7 percent drop in foreign tourists in 2009

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The Independent Online

Spain suffered a drop in foreign tourists of 8.7 percent last year due to the global economic slowdown, the government said Wednesday, its second straight year of falling visitor numbers.

The country received 52.5 million visitors in 2009, the industry ministry said, down from 57.4 million in the previous year when Spain lost its ranking as the world's second most visited country to the United States.

The government had expected the number of visitors to drop this year by 10 percent but Secretary of State for Tourism, Joan Mesquida, said the decline in arrivals eased towards the end of the year.

"It was a complicated year," he told a news conference, adding that he was "moderately optimistic" for 2010 because of the improvement in the economy in Britain and Germany, the two main sources of visitors to Spain.

In 2008 the number of visitors to Spain fell by 2.3 percent over the previous year, its first reversal in visitor numbers in over a decade.

Apart from the recession, Spain is feeling the pinch from the drop in the pound to near parity with the euro, which has made it more expensive for British holidaymakers to spend time at the resorts that dot its extensive coastline.

Britain is Spain's main source of foreign tourists, accounting for about one-fourth of all visitors.

Spain has also suffered from increased competition in recent years from cheaper sunshine destinations in the eastern Mediterranean like Turkey and Egypt.

The appeal of the package sun-and-sand holidays that Spain pioneered is also beginning to wane as the popularity of independent travel booked over the Internet increases.

But while tourist arrivals declined last year, the average amount spent per visitor rose 2.1 percent over 2008 to 920 euros (1,334 dollars). Total tourism revenues fell 6.8 percent to 48 billion euros.

In response to the the declining visitor numbers, the Spanish government has increased the amount it will spent to promote the country abroad as a tourism destination by 6.4 percent in 2010, the industry ministry said.

The tourism sector employed 2,250,000 people last year, or 12 percent of all workers in the country, according to the industry ministry.