MADRID (Reuters) - Tourist arrivals in Spain hit a new record in the first eight months of 2015, according to an industry ministry body, with security fears in the Middle East and North Africa pushing holidaymakers, especially British and French, to seek out Spanish beaches.
Frontur said tourist arrivals reached 47.2 million in the period, up 4.1 percent.
A million fewer tourists headed for Tunisia in the year to August, after two attacks by Islamist militants in recent months that killed dozens of Western visitors.
The tourism boost for Spain, which benefited coastal regions such as Catalonia and the Balearic Islands the most, should be a further fillip for the economy just as the country heads into a year-end general election.
Tourism accounts for about 11 percent of Spain’s output, and a busier season than usual should translate into a jobs spurt in a country where unemployment hovers at 22.4 percent, still the second-highest rate in Europe after Greece.
Holiday firms and politicians are split about the benefits of a massive tourism influx for Spain over the longer term, however.
Data on tourists’ spending in Spain varies, with some measures showing expenditure per head rising and others revealing a decline.
But many in the industry argue more needs to be done to encourage higher spending and renew Spain’s image as more than just a cheap beach holiday and party spot and to attract visitors to its lesser known regions.
Some cities, meanwhile, are feeling the burden of the big jump in visitors. Barcelona is trying to crack down on uncontrolled tourism amid fears it is spoiling the Catalan capital’s charm.
Reporting by Sarah White and Robert Hetz; editing by Ralph Boulton