Despite previous Spanish travel restrictions, in 2022, the most visited country for British tourists is expected to be Spain.
On the 31st of January 2020, a German tourist tested positive for Covid in the Canary Islands.
The effect on tourism to Spain was catastrophic with many businesses failing during the following months and years
Two years later though, despite all of the difficulties, Spain has risen again like a phoenix from the ashes and has won the Battle for the Brits.
Prior to the pandemic, there were over 10 million British tourists visiting the Spanish Peninsula, Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands each year. British visitors were the top contributor to international tourism in Spain.
During the Covid-19 restrictions, British travellers abandoned Spain due to difficulties circumventing changing testing and paperwork requirements. There was some positive news during this time, the French and Germans with easier overland travel options made Spain their main holiday destination. This change was so dramatic that the French overtook British tourists in the number of visitors to Spain.
There are dark clouds on the horizon though. In a Finder UK survey, 3 million Brits said they would not travel abroad again post-pandemic. In 2020 The Spanish accommodation industry released a report showing that overnight stays had declined 73.1%. This could force hotels into closure, especially privately owned and run smaller establishments. Bars and restaurants have had a particularly tough time, especially in British centric resorts. The lack of financial assistance from the Spanish government during the pandemic has pushed many small businesses into ruin.
With a long recovery period expected the Costa del Sol tourist board has had a change of strategy. They have decided to focus their attention on attracting more visitors from France, Germany, Belgium and Denmark. It seems they wish to reduce their dependency on the British tourists and focus elsewhere in Northern Europe and into its’ own domestic markets. Although there is a twisted logic to this, the British tourists only stopped coming to Spain because they could not permeate the maze of requirements and lack of transport options. It is a churlish decision to no longer concentrate on your primary marketplace but to spread your risk based on a once in a generational event.
Despite Spain always having been a highly popular destination for British tourists there were fears that the British may fall out of love for Spain and post Spanish travel restrictions would look to other destinations. This was a major concern for the Spanish government and the tourism bosses as the 2nd most popular destination is the USA. According to a survey conducted by ABTA 29.3% of British tourists planned to visit Spain in 2022, as opposed to only 18.1% who intended to visit the USA.
The Spanish government and tourist bosses are expecting British tourists to make up the largest group of international tourists in 2022 with perennial areas such Benidorm, Costa del Sol and the Balearic islands being the most visited.
AENA, the Andalucian Airport Authority, had predicted just over 16,500 flight arrivals for the first three months of 2022. This may be only 80% of the 2019 figures but shows are marked increase and these figures are also influenced by the airlines still not up to full carrying capacity.
Reasons to be upbeat
Following the relaxing of pre-departure testing and Spain dropping the testing requirements for minors, the country is now fully open for British tourist business again.
With Covid restrictions relaxed there is a perceivable pent up demand for the British to return to their favourite destinations. In a statement, Spanish Tourism Minister Maria Reyes Maroto commented that “in 2022 we could recover to pre-pandemic levels”.
Spain has been a favourite holiday destination since the late 1970s and a large contingent of the population sees an annual pilgrimage to Spain as part of their holiday process. With the proximity and guaranteed summer sun, it is easy to see why and there is no reason to believe that this has changed during the pandemic.
A major driving force for the recovery is the UK airlines. Starved of passengers for nearly two years they are rapidly responding to the higher demand with EasyJet and Jet2 already are increasing their operational capacity to Spain.
Despite a slow start, Spain now has one of the highest Covid vaccination rates in the world. When they finally got up and running, the Spanish health service managed an incredible feat of playing catch-up with other nations. With nearly 85% of the population fully vaccinated as opposed to 74% in England and 76% in both Scotland and Wales. It is also a fact that over half the population have had a booster jab.
British tourists looking for a travel destination are comforted by the high vaccination levels and this generates confidence that the travel destination will be safe.
Regular travellers to Spain are aware that sometimes hygiene controls in leisure establishments could be lacking. Following a high-level advertising campaign and mandatory controls, this has been addressed with improved cleaning and the requirement for disinfection.
A knock on effect of the boost in confidence is the huge upswing in interest in the Spanish property market. In some areas there is even a shortage of suitable properties.
Back to Normal
It is fair to say that British tourists can enjoy a normal holiday, with minimal disruption as restaurants, hotels, bars and shops are now operating normally.
Operators of businesses in the main tourist hotspots have already noticed the return of British tourists and are hopeful for a busy summer season.
The Spanish government and tourism bosses have worked tirelessly to continue to keep Spain open, albeit with restrictions, but their efforts are starting to pay dividends.
With other tourist destinations fighting for the British pound, Spain has done a sterling job in winning the hearts and souls of the British tourist.