By Agence France-Presse
Spain is expected to replace the United States as the world’s second tourism destination while France has retained the top spot, the UN World Tourism Organization said Monday.
“It is expected” that Spain will take the second position with some 82 million visitors last year, UNWTO chief Zurab Pololikashvili told reporters, adding however that definitive figures would be published in the spring.
He did not give any details about the United States, nor did he explain why Spain took the second spot despite a terror attack in August and a highly mediatised independence crisis in tourism magnet Catalonia.
John Kester, head of tourism trends at the UN agency, added that “everything indicates” that France would retain its top spot in 2017 — a good year for the industry as the number of global tourists leapt seven percent on 2016, the biggest increase in seven years.
Europe was the star of the show as it attracted a large number of visitors, up eight percent from the previous year, lured in particular by the Mediterranean’s sea and sun.
This contrasts sharply with 2016 figures that saw security fears hit visitor arrivals in Europe.
“We do see that demand for European destinations has been very strong,” said Kester.
“We also see important recovery in France,” he added, without giving further details about a country that was hard hit by extremist attacks.
Spain also suffered a deadly jihadist attack in August in Catalonia, the same region whose leaders tried unsuccessfully to break away from Spain, triggering a major crisis that shook Europe.
And while the political crisis sparked a drop in visitor numbers to the northeastern region, it does not appear to have dented overall tourist figures for Spain in 2017.
In 2016, Spain welcomed 75.3 million visitors, just behind the United States with 75.6 million, while France — despite its own terror woes — easily remained the world leader with 82.6 million visitors, according to the UNWTO.