Overnight stays in Spain's hotels dropped 6.6 percent in 2009 over the previous year despite a fall in rates, official data showed Wednesday, in the latest sign that the country's key tourism sector has taken a hit due to the recession.

The number of overnight stays by residents of Spain fell 3.2 percent to 109.8 million while the number of stays by non-residents fell 9.1 percent to 142 million, the national statistics institute said in a statement.

Average hotel rates declined 5.6 percent in 2009 over the previous year as establishments slashed rates in a bid to woo tourists in the midst of recession in Spain and in the country's main sources of foreign visitors.

In 2008 Spain lost its ranking as the world's second most visited country to the United States as the number of tourists it welcomed dropped 2.3 percent to 57.3 million, 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.

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.

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

Germany and Britain accounted for 54.2 percent of all overnight stays by non-residents in 2009.

The number of overnight stays by Germans fell 10.6 percent to 1.6 million while the number of stays by Britons also fell by 10.6 percent to 1.3 million.

The number of foreign tourists who visited Spain last year slipped 8.7 percent to just over 52 million, the second straight year of falling visitor numbers.