By land, sea and air. The spectacular recovery of international tourism last summer has been the key for the main engine of the Spanish economy to compensate for the depression in industrial activity. Demand has absorbed the escalation of prices by adjusting budgets but without giving up their holidays: hotel occupancy has been at an all-time high and airports, cruise ships and railway operators have raised their activity figures to double digits.

Thus, tourism will give continuity in 2023 to the same role of "support for growth" with which the Bank of Spain has described it since the recovery of 2022. The evolution of the Spanish economy as a whole last year was already driven more by the reactivation of visits by international travellers than by industrial activity. In 2023 it takes the same path. Already before the summer, while the profits of industrial companies plunged by 40% until June, tourism contributed a balance of 5,500 million euros to the balance of payments, with growth rates of 16% in revenues and 12% in payments while non-tourist goods and services showed a surplus of 600 million.

Their contribution is being decisive in improving the financing capacity of the economy. So much so, that while underlining its great moment, investment banks and economists point to it as a risk. "Tourism represents a tenth of the total production of services of the Spanish economy, which is a potential weakness," said the rating agency S & P when analyzing the health of the Spanish economy.

For CaixaBank Research, dependence on tourism has been positive in 2023 but may not be so positive next year due to the contraction in spending promoted by the European Central Bank and the poor situation of the two main customers: the United Kingdom and Germany. "We expect headwinds to kick in, especially towards the end of 2023 and during 2024, a year for which we expect positive growth in tourism GDP but more moderate due to the complex macroeconomic outlook, greater price competition from other destinations in the Mediterranean, and the risk that both domestic and European tourism will once again travel to more distant destinations," explains its analyst David Cesar Heymann.

Perhaps a contraction of the main economic engine with other sectors such as the industrial sector in full depression since 2021 due to the energy crisis will reactivate the debate that opened precisely then, when institutions such as CEOE or the Elcano Institute demanded a change of production model that has not occurred.

In Funcas, Elisa Chulia, indicates that the sector has learned from shocks such as the pandemic, but that it will not be easy to replace English and German tourists with others from third markets. "The productive model is a debate that already occurred in 2011 the excessive weight of construction. Now we have had a golden opportunity to execute it with European funds but it gives the impression that this is not the case," he laments. "As long as this continues, the only thing we can do is thank the power of the tourism sector."

In fact, 2023 will be a new record year in terms of tourism revenues, a progression that resumes the trajectory prior to the pandemic. Until June, at the gates of the high season, they were already 35,600 million, 7,000 million more than in the same period of the previous year. And, thanks to the fact that domestic tourism has maintained demand along with the boom in foreign tourism, the peak of the season has been so high this summer that it has even awakened in the sector itself the debate around the need to regulate capacity limits of the industry in territories that border on saturation, like the Balearic Islands.

The summer of 2023 has been one of intense activity in all means of transport, with nearly 100 million journeys calculated by the General Directorate of Traffic. In August, Aena's airports received nearly 30 million passengers, 10% more than last year, which has underpinned a 19% growth in activity in the network manager despite the escalation of airline prices. The activity has been especially explosive in cruise ships, a means of transport that grows extraordinarily in the ports of Barcelona, Valencia, Palma or A Coruña. In total, cruise ships disembarked last August 1.2 million passengers in ports, 65% more than a year ago. And in the case of rail, long-distance passenger transport at high speed also grew by double digits, with which companies such as Renfe, Ouigo or Iryo benefited from the tourist boom at a higher rate than in other years.

In total, according to the National Institute of Statistics, the total expenditure made by international tourists visiting Spain in July reached 13,853 million euros in July, which represents an increase of 16.4% compared to the same month of 2022 and 16% above that of the same month of 2019.

The strong growth of this item is given more by the rise in prices than by the demand of travelers. While the average expenditure per tourist rose from 1,367 euros, 4.4% more, the average daily expenditure grew by 9%, to 185 euros. This difference is explained because, without giving up holidays, tourists have shortened their stay in Spain to an average of 7.4 days.