Overtaking U.S. in Visitors, Spain Wrestles With #TouristGoHome

Published January 2018 Analyst: David Juman


According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Spain has replaced the U.S. as the world's second-most popular tourism destination. With an estimated 82 million travelers visiting the country in 2017, Spain leapfrogged the U.S. and now trails only France. Yet while Spain clearly welcomes the economic benefits associated with this surge in tourism, not all Spaniards are delighted.

The swell in international arrivals has fueled an explosion in the use of private accommodation platforms such as Airbnb and HomeAway in Spain. But locals in popular tourist destinations such as Ibiza and Barcelona have protested that the uptick in private accommodation rentals has driven up rents and resulted in a lack of affordable housing. In addition, they complain of increases in traffic and street noise, and bemoan the loss of traditional businesses, which are disappearing in favor of tourism-oriented establishments. Meanwhile, in Barcelona – where Airbnb was fined €600,000 in 2016 for listing unlicensed flats on its platform – the city has aggressively stepped up its efforts to identify illegal rentals.

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Increased tourism can give a destination an economic shot-in-the-arm, particularly in terms of local employment. This is sorely needed in Spain, where high unemployment remains a problem and the Catalan independence movement is creating political and economic uncertainty. But the impact of private rentals on locals, and the broader #TouristGoHome movement which they characterize, challenges the popular notion that tourism improves the overall quality of life for full-time residents.

For more data and insights on one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, check out Phocuswright's Spanish Online Travel Overview Thirteenth Edition.

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