Now, more than ever, tourism is the jewel of the Costa del Sol. This sector, which had to share its leading role with construction and industry during the boom years, is now the pillar that supports the economy and is the only one which is showing growth at a time of full crisis.
The climate, the potential for sunshine and beach holidays, the resurgence of the residential tourism market, a newly renovated hotel sector with a predominance of top quality establishments, a brand which is proving attractive to the new and growing international markets, a diversity of attractions to meet the demands of contemporary travellers and an infrastructure which was prepared for the crisis have proved to be the backbone of the Costa del Sol.
Malaga province offers more than 300 days of sunshine a year and an average temperature of 19 degrees and this continues to be the intangible asset that makes this area unique and places the province at the helm of tourism in Andalucía. In absolute terms, the region holds a prominent international position in numbers of visitors and last year the figures were higher than those in rival countries such as Morocco, Croatia and Egypt.
Sunshine and beaches
The figures for overnight stays in hotels are also impressive. With 15.2 million during the last year, the statistics for the Costa del Sol are similar to those of entire regions. During the first ten months of this year, there had already been more than 14.8 million overnight hotel stays, which is an increase of two per cent. This rise is mainly due to the fact that the number of nights booked by foreign tourists has increased by seven points and this has mitigated the drop of almost equal proportion in national demand which has been caused by the country's economic situation. The Costa del Sol accounted for 51 per cent of all overnight stays on the Andalusian coast last year. This is the third highest level in Spain, with 29.4 million such stays.
This segment is the cornerstone that makes the Costa del Sol the destination of choice for more than one third of the visitors who come to Andalucía for their holidays. The region is the main destination in Spain for national tourism and lies in fourth place as a destination for foreign travellers. In the first ten months of this year the hotels in Malaga province received 3.9 million tourists, which is 0.47 per cent more than in the same period last year. This positive figure has been determined by the good response from the international markets, which have grown by six points. International visitors have played a key role in improving the average length of stay by 1.26 per cent and keeping hotel occupancy levels above an average of 55 per cent with a rise of 0.8 per cent.
Without a doubt, however, another asset for the international markets is Malaga airport, which is the principle entry point for travellers to Andalucía. Nearly fifty national and foreign airlines operate from this airport and so far this year 11.3 million passengers have used it. The investment which was made in new infrastructure in the province before the crisis have meant that it is now in a privileged situation compared with other Spanish tourist areas. As well as a road network which has eradicated the congestion of previous years, Malaga now has an airport on which the Ministry of Public Works has invested nearly 1,800 million euros. It can handle 30 million passengers a year, which is 9,500 every hour, and the second runway provides the capacity to operate a maximum of 72 planes per hour.
Apart from the airport, there is the AVE high speed rail service to and from Malaga. This allows the Costa del Sol to be Madrid's beach and brings the destination closer to northern Spain, although it is noticeable that the crisis is having an effect on demand, which has fallen slightly by two points.
The third entry point for tourists is by sea. The three cruise terminals at Malaga Port and the new berths make the provincial capital the second port in Spain for cruises, after Barcelona. Up until October, the port had received 552,494 cruise passengers this year, which is an increase of three per cent.
The residential sector
Another factor which is contributing to the economy of this province is residential tourism, which is resurging after the catharsis of 2009 and which has recently received the support of the Government through a measure which will facilitate the residency of non-EU citizens who acquire a property in Spain for more than 160,000 euros.
The president of the Association of Constructors and Developers of Malaga, José Prado, says the residential segment is showing signs of recovery. "The percentage of sales of properties to foreigners is currently 6.04 per cent of all property sales and although it had reached 9 per cent we are seeing an improvement compared with the minimum of 4.24 per cent we had in 2009. This means that the foreign market has reactivated", he explains. He also points out that the drop in prices, more than 30 per cent on the Costa del Sol, has played an important role in this recovery and that property prices are now are at a level with those in 2003.
International tourism on the Costa del Sol has helped to alleviate the effects of the drop in national demand. Up to September half a million British visitors came, 12.5 per cent more than in the same period of 2011.
The market from Scandinavian countries is on the increase but the one which is growing most, despite being a minority, is Russia. These new markets are injecting optimism in a sector which is surviving the crisis well and monopolising the growth of the economy, despite the burden of seasonal tourism.