Tourism in Iberia

Spain becomes 2nd most visited country

Seven straight years of record tourism have helped Portugal emerge from the abyss of debt and bring unemployment levels to their lowest in a decade.

Tourists sunbathe and swim at the beach of Magaluf on the island of Mallorca, Spain, August 19, 2017. Picture taken August 19, 2017. REUTERS/Enrique Calvo

Travelers vote with their feet; France is still the number one destination for tourists in 2018.

And until very recently, the second spot had been held by the US.

But one year into the ‘Trump slump’—a combination of stricter visa regulations and a general mauvais goí»t in most everyone’s mouth—and the US has already lost its coveted second-place status to Spain.

While the US narrowly edged Spain with 75.6 million tourists to the latter’s 75.3 million in 2016, arrivals to the land of the free, brave, and fat were down 5% in the first quarter of 2017 and 3% in the second.

Interestingly, it was despite the threat and reality of repeated terror attacks that France still received 82.6 million visitors in 2016—a year buffeted by the Bataclan attack of November 2015 and maimed by the Bastille Day truck rampage in July—and another 88 million in 2017.

Nor for that matter was Spain exempt from the violent winds of history.

Not only did Barcelona suffer from terrorist attacks on Las Ramblas in August, but passed through months of intense civil strife in the aftermath of the Catalonian independence referendum in October, an unrest that has still not fully abated.

Despite this, Spain’s prime minister was able to point to a 12% increase in tourism revenues by the end of 2017 to an astonishing USD106.7 billion, some 11% of national GDP.

That even frequent terror attacks and the potential of low-scale civil conflict cannot keep the global masses away from France and Spain speaks more to their enduring allure than any special act of bravery on behalf of Long Island tour guide operators.

But how are similar tourism markets faring, particularly those that have thus far avoided the scourge of terror attacks?

Look no further then than Spain’s Iberian neighbor Portugal, one of 2017’s biggest best-kept tourism success stories.

Emerging from the 2011-2014 debt crisis and the negative publicity bestowed upon Mediterranean nations in the form of the moniker PIGS (Portugal Italy Greece Spain), the Portuguese economy has been buzzing to a faster fado for three years running now.

With record tourism arrivals six years running since 2011, the sector now rivals Spain’s in that it accounts for over 10% of national GDP.

Topping ten million visitors for the first time ever in 2016, the nation of 10.3 million was on pace to quash that number in 2017, with 7.1 million visitors in the first seven months alone.

This has also brought with it an attendant construction and rehabilitation boom in hotels and historic refurbishing, one of the biggest reasons why unemployment figures reached their lowest in a decade in September 2017. The figure now stands at 8.5%, down from a ruinous 17% at the nadir of the debt crisis in 2013.

Though youth unemployment remains at 24.6%, the OECD predicts that Portugal’s overall rate will fall as low as 7.4% by 2019, much of that no doubt based on well-grounded assumptions about continued growth in the tourism sector.

Buzzing with 2% economic growth, the country is faring better than many of its neighbors. And if world trends are anything to go by, 2017’s 7% uptick in global tourism augurs very well for peaceful, political violence-free little Portugal.

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