As the summer comes to a close and industry analysts draw their conclusions from the latest tourism statistics, it has become clear that the record-breaking figures of 2017 were exceptional and difficult to equal.
The July figures published by the INE (National Statistics Institute) show that on the Costa del Sol the steep growth the tourism industry has experienced in the last three years has come to a halt.
The latest Frontur study, which gauges the movement of tourists at the country's frontiers, has shown that the number of foreign visitors has fallen in all of Spain's tourist destinations, including Andalucía. In fact in July, this region - Spain's third in terms of foreign visitor numbers (after Catalonia and the Balearics) - saw its first fall since 2012, a drop of 2.2% to a total of 1.3 million.
The reasons for the overall decline can be traced to a fall in British tourists, who make up 27.3% of the region's total. In July Spain as a whole received nearly 2.2 million British visitors, 22% of the country's total and a slump of 5.6% on the same month last year.
Andalusian resorts have also suffered this summer from falls in arrivals of French and German tourists, the two most important foreign markets for the area after the British, down 11.4% and 6.2%, respectively.
While July is a significant month to study on its own, the totals for the first seven months of 2018 together are more positive, with an increase of 1.1% and a total of more than 6.5 million tourists. The increase for the same period of 2017 was, however, as high as 10.3%.
The INE also revealed this week the findings of the Egatur (Tourist Spending Survey), which measures how much foreign visitors spend while on holiday in Spain. In this case, though, Andalucía's results were positive in July with a total income of 1.6 billion euros, an increase of 0.2%. This, according to the survey, works out at an average spend per tourist per holiday of 1,209 euros, 2.5% more. The biggest increase was in the average expense per day, which was up 10.6% to 132 euros.
In Spain as a whole foreign tourists spent 11.7 billion euros in July, down 0.9% on the same month in 2017. The average spend per tourist per stay was 1,177 euros, up 4.2%, and the average spend per day was up 9.5% to 152 euros.
The decline in tourism figures has also been evident from the recently-published INE statistics on holiday accommodation. The figures take into account types of accommodation that are currently regulated by the authorities - hotels, hotel apartments, camp sites and rural holiday cottages - and reveal falls of 0.5% and 0.1% in visitors in June and July, respectively.
Figures for overnight stays are also negative with drops of 1.8% and 0.5% in June and July.
These same reports for July last year showed increases of 8.5% in visitors and 4% in stays.
Private rental properties are not included in these figures but their results can be gauged by the holiday rentals websites and the association that represents them, whose president is Carlos Pérez Lanzac.
He paints a similar picture to the INE results for hotels. "June was more or less the same as last year. In July owners had to drop prices to equal the number of nights as 2017, but we are confident that the August figures will keep up with last year's," he said, adding, "We don't expect to grow this summer, but to keep steady and maintain prices."
As with the Frontur figures, the fall in numbers of British and German tourists, who together make up 40% of the total, has been blamed for the negative accommodation results.
In July passenger arrivals at Malaga Airport were down 1.8% to 2,146,000, although the seven-month total up to July this year did show a 2.1% increase to more than 10.8 million, according to figures from the Spanish airports agency, Aena. In the first half of this year, though, Aena counted 4.6% fewer British visitors and 1.8% fewer Germans.
The reason for this fall in international visitors lies with the recovery of rival Mediterranean destinations, especially Turkey. Not only has the country come back with bargain holiday prices, the devaluation of the Turkish lira with respect to the pound has made holidays even cheaper for the British.
Other countries such as Bulgaria and Croatia are also gaining ground, also offering cheaper holidays. Industry professionals have suggested that other factors, such as the weather and even jellyfish could have had an effect on British tourists' choice of destination.
The Spanish to the rescue
The decrease in overall tourism figures on the Costa del Sol would have been even worse this year if it weren't for the visitors from other parts of Spain. The Andalusian coastline has fared better than the island destinations - both Canaries and Balearics - where professionals turned to dropping prices to save the season. On the Costa del Sol the prices were kept the same until the end of July, although some hotels decided to launch special offers in August.
This is the first time since the end of the financial crisis that the sector has not continued to increase its prices and profitability.
The regional minister for Tourism and Sport, Francisco Javier Fernández remained optimistic, however. He pointed out that the number of Spanish tourists had increased making up for the fall in international visitors.
The president of the provincial government's organisation Turismo Costa del Sol, Elías Bendodo, said that the area should stick to its strategy of setting itself apart from its main competitors such as Tunisia, Turkey, Greece and Egypt, as well as from other Spanish destinations, by focusing on the quality of its services and attractions. "That is our main strength," he said.
Hoteliers are less optimistic
The president of the Association of Costa del Sol hoteliers (Aehcos), Luis Callejón Suñé, warned that further declines were expected in the August figures and that the current scenario was just the "tip of the iceberg".
Things would have been much worse, he said, if it hadn't been for the increase in Spanish visitors.
In order to win back British tourists he called for a change in marketing strategy "because we can't trundle on our millstones when the industry is changing every minute", he said.