Tourism decline ends in Spain: official data

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The number of foreign tourists arriving in Spain inched up in January from a year earlier, the industry ministry said Monday, ending 18 consecutive months of decline for the key tourism sector.

The country received around 2.54 million foreign tourists last month, a 1.1 percent increase over the same period in 2009 with Britain remaining Spain's main source of visitors, accounting for one-fifth of all arrivals that month.

But while the number of arrivals of Britons, who have been hit by a fall in sterling's value against the euro, fell by 8.1 percent to 528,036 people, the number of German visitors rose by 6.3 percent to 417,005.

Germany was Spain's second-largest source of visitors in January, accounting for 16.4 percent of the total.

Tourism, which accounts for around 10 percent of Spain's economy, has taken a battering due to the global economic downturn and the emergence of cheaper sunshine destinations in the eastern Mediterranean like Turkey and Egypt.

The country received 52.5 million visitors in 2009, an 8.7 percent decline over the previous year when Spain lost its ranking as the world's second most visited country to the United States.

In 2008 the number of visitors to Spain fell by 2.3 percent over the previous year, its first reversal in tourist arrivals in more than a decade.

The Spanish government has increased the amount it will spend to promote the country abroad as a tourism destination by 6.4 percent this year in response to the declining visitor numbers.