Hotel receptions on the Costa del Sol have been reporting a general increase in the number of Dutch and Belgian visitors this summer and a notable drop in the number of guests from the UK and Germany.
This is unusual because for decades the principal source markets for the Costa del Sol had remained unchanged: the UK, Germany and France were the biggest markets, especially in some years when French travellers decided that the Costa del Sol was a more fashionable destination and came to this area instead of their traditional favourite place for holidays, which is the coast of Catalonia.
Apart from those few occasions when the French changed their allegiance from Catalonia, businesses and entities involved in promoting the destination knew exactly where they should focus their attention to ensure that British and German visitors came year after year.
Now, however, in what can be described as the post-pandemic era, something is different. A report on tourism in general on the Costa del Sol shows that these significant changes have occurred, and they indicate that the sector will also have to do things differently if it is to continue to attract travellers to the destination in the same numbers as before.
In other words, these changes open up new opportunities and mark the start of a long-awaited stage of relieving the dependence on major source markets such as the United Kingdom. The data can be taken as a guideline for the future.
The study, which was carried out by the Costa del Sol Tourist Board and based on data from the National Institute of Statistics on the movement of travellers in hotels and apartments during the first six months of this year, shows that the UK still heads the list of international visitors, even though the figure was down by 18 per cent in the first half of this year, compared with the same period in 2019.
The big surprise is that the second place is now held by the Netherlands, which has beaten Germany, a market in clear decline which has been relegated to fourth place and with figures similar to those of the fifth source market, Ireland.
The report says bookings by Dutch visitors in hotels and apartments in the province rose by 23.7 per cent in the first six months of 2022, also overtaking those by tourists from France.
In this new configuration Belgium also stands out, as it is now the sixth biggest source of international clients for hotels and apartments on the Costa del Sol, whereas before the pandemic began it was ninth on the list, a position now held by the USA.
The increase in the number of arrivals from Belgium has also displaced another strong market, Italy. In fact, only the Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal have shown an increase in the number of visitors above those who came in the first six months of 2019, and in the case of Portugal, there was a rise of nearly 40 per cent in the first half of this year. The other markets still have a long way to go to get back to where they were before the coronavirus crisis.
In this sense, of trying to return to pre-pandemic figures, the market which is suffering the most due to the imposition of strict quarantines, is the biggest source market for the Costa del Sol, the United Kingdom. This country accounts for 30 per cent of the business in hotels and the number of arrivals at Malaga airport.
The figures from the Costa del Sol Tourist Board reflect the concern among businesses about the need to recover British tourism as a sign that normality is returning.
In the first half of this year, hotels and apartments have lost 115,213 British visitors, which is a drop of about 18.2 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels. The figure is even greater if you look at the airport statistics, as the number of visitors from the UK was down by almost 23 per cent between January and June this year, compared with the same period in 2019. This means that 309,935 fewer visitors flew to Malaga from Britain than in the first six months of 2019, when the number of arrivals reached one million.
If this situation seems worrying, the one regarding Germany is even more so, and in addition this country has already said it is in an economic recession.
The figures for the first six months show that the number of visitors from Germany arriving at the airport dropped by 27 per cent compared with the same period in 2019, with 105,011 fewer arrivals.
The situation regarding French arrivals is similar, down by 18 per cent and more than 50,000 passengers.
In view of the fact that the source markets which have traditionally led international tourism are still struggling with the impact of the pandemic, businesses and entities such as the Costa del Sol Tourist Board are planning new strategies.
They are also actively trying to attract tourists back from other markets such as Scandinavia, where the data shows that the pandemic has also had a major impact and the figures are below those of previous years.
In this respect, Miguel Sánchez, who until very recently headed the Tourism Council of the Andalusian Confederation of Business Owners (CEA), has called for action to be taken to improve connectivity with the Scandinavian countries.
"We must focus on these markets because they are essential and they were pioneers on the Costa del Sol. There is a tremendous potential there and we are not taking advantage of it," he said.
The top international markets for Costa del Sol hotels and apartments in the first half of this year have therefore been the UK, Netherlands, France, Germany, Ireland, Belgium, Italy, USA, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Poland, Portugal and Finland, all of them preceded by the domestic Spanish market.
Faced with this change of scenario, the Tourist Board has also begun a special promotional campaign to attract tourists between now and the end of the year, and is taking advantage of major events in strategic markets to reverse this situation.
In addition to the problems caused by the pandemic, experts are warning that with inflation so high and the war in Ukraine, many countries are going to find themselves in recession.
With Big Data as a useful tool to guide the Costa as to where to act, at what time and how to do so, the Costa del Sol Tourist Board has planned a series of actions. These range from participation in the most important tourism fairs, not only in Europe but also in the USA, to organising professional and specific conferences to boost segments which are still heavily impacted by the pandemic, such as congress and business tourism.
They have also increased the number of familiarisation trips for travel agents and journalists, to enable them to get to know the destination better and at first hand.