Spain continues to reign for planes from UK

22 August, 2017

The number of British tourists visiting Spain jumped by its largest rate in over a decade to hit a record in 2016 and capacity analysis for summer 2017 suggests this year could be another record-breaking year, defying expectations of a slowdown in bookings following the UK's Brexit vote and the subsequent loss in value of sterling against the euro.

For years, Britons have been the biggest group of tourists to Spain by nationality, but changing consumer trends had led to fears that the travellers would look elsewhere. However, recent terrorism incidents in emerging markets in north Africa that has led to the ban on flights from the UK to Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt and restrictions on UK visitors to Tunisia has seen people return to the comfort of a market they know.

Official data from Spain's Ministry for Industry, Energy and Tourism shows the number of Britons visiting Spain rose by over 12% in 2016 to 17.8 million people - that is almost 50% more than the next biggest group by nationality - the French.

CHART - Spanish visitor arrivals by market (2016)Source: CAPA - Centre for Aviation & Spain's Ministry for Industry, Energy and Tourism and Instituto Nacional de Estadistica

Spain became a popular destination for British holidaymakers travelling abroad from the late 1950s after British European Airways opened a route to Valencia in 1957 and air capacity is a good measure of anticipated demand. The Blue Swan Daily analysis of OAG data shows that air capacity between the UK and Spain has grown more than 50% since the start of the decade.

After hitting a low in summer 2009, the number of one-way seats into Spain grew up until summer 2015 when a small -1.4% year-on-year decline was recorded for the schedule period. A significant 21.5% rise in capacity in summer 2016 helped drive last year's record arrivals and a 10.5% rise for summer 2017 will certainly help push levels up further. In fact tourism figures for the first half of the year shows UK arrivals into Spain are up 8.0% on the same period last year with an additional 630,000 million travellers boosting levels to over 8.5 million people for the six month period.

CHART - Scheduled seat capacity from the UK to Spain is on the rise and Spain is securing a greater share of departure seats from the UKSource: The Blue Swan Daily and OAG

The additional capacity into Spain from the UK this summer has boosted its share of the total departure capacity from the country to a new decade high. After peaking at an 18.9% share in summer 2013, levels slipped to 18.5% in summer 2014 and 17.5% in summer 2015, the lowest level since the start of the 2010s. The additional flights - through an upgauge in capacity, increased frequencies and new city pairs - boosted levels to 18.9% last summer and uplifted this further to 19.8% in summer 2017. That means that one in every five seats out of the UK is into Spain.

A detailed The Blue Swan Daily analysis of flight schedules from the top 20 UK airports by international capacity this summer highlights how Spanish destinations dominate the departure boards.

TABLE - Spain leads the largest country markets from the UK's leading airports this summerSource: The Blue Swan Daily and OAG

At 13 of the 15 largest airports by international capacity Spain is the largest country market for flights with shares of departure seats varying from 17.7% at London Luton to a whopping 57.7% at Belfast International. The only airports where Spain doesn't reign for flights is London Heathrow, where its transatlantic links means USA is the largest destination market, and London City, where strong business traffic means the Netherlands tops the list.

Tourism is crucial to Spain's economy, but there has become increasing opposition to the growth in arrivals from local communities throughout Spain. Recent over-tourism protests in cities such as Barcelona, Bilbao, Palma as well as the terrorist attacks in downtown Barcelona will certainly make people reconsider visits to Spain with it no longer being seen as a safe destination for travellers. The fact that the dead and wounded from the Las Ramblas attack covered over 30 different nationalities highlights the popularity of the city for foreign visitors.

Safety is increasingly emerging as a crucial factor in the choice of holiday destinations with surveys suggesting that many now have serious safety and security concerns and a majority would only travel to international destinations they perceive as safe. While Spain appears to have gained market share from the likes of Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey over recent years, observers will be watching closely to see if what brought this growth could rebound and damage demand into Spain in the near future.

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