When will Andalucia’s international tourism return to pre-pandemic normality?

International passengers are increasing month by month © stock photo
International passengers are increasing month by month

When will Andalucia’s international tourism return to pre-pandemic normality?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began at the start of 2020, many industries and economies have taken a major blow, but arguably haven't been as hard hit as the tourism industry.

According to the INE (Instituto Nacional de Estadistica), Andalucia saw a 345% decrease in the number of international tourists arriving into the region in 2020 compared to the year before. 12,023,153 international tourists visited Andalucia in 2019, contrasting with just 2,700,613 in 2020.

A study by the INE found that tourists, between the years of 2019 and 2021, spent an average of 384.20€, with British tourists surpassing that average at 399.57€. Analysis by Caixa Bank revealed that Andalucia took a 47% drop in tourist expenditure in 2020, predominantly income generated by international tourists. In 2020, spending by foreign tourists alone fell by almost €10 billion in the region, compared to a total spending of €12.5 billion by overseas tourists in 2019.

Spain is British holidaymaker's favorite vacation spot and is Europe’s second most visited country for all international tourists, according to The United Nations World Tourism Organization. Andalucia takes an average of 14% of annual tourist arrivals in Spain, making it the country’s fourth most popular region to visit, closely behind the Balearic Islands (16%), Canary Islands (17%), and Catalonia (22%).

After Spain closed its borders on 18th March 2020, the country officially recorded zero arrivals during the months of April and May, as such low figures were negligible. It is the first time this has occurred since records began.

The return of tourists was prompted by UK and Spain’s phased approach to reopening its borders:

  • 21st June 2020 - Spain’s borders reopen. Britons have strict travel advice in place and must quarantine on return to the UK.
  • 10th July 2020 - Travel in and out of Spain permitted. British travel advice advises against travel.
  • 26th July 2020 - UK reintroduces quarantine.
  • 21st December 2020 - Spain closes its borders once again following a spike in cases.
  • 24th May 2021 - Spain reopens its borders. British travelers are required to test and quarantine.
  • 19th July 2021 - UK removes quarantine legislation but requires testing to travel to and from Spain.
  • 21st October 2021 - UK removes testing requirements.
  • 1st December 2021 - Spain removes restrictions for fully vaccinated travelers.
  • 11th February 2022 - UK removes all restrictions for vaccinated travelers.
  • 22nd May 2022 - Non vaccinated tourists can now enter Spain with a negative COVID-19 test

The complexity of navigating these changing rules helps us understand why the recovery was taking its time.

The national tourist arrivals (including Andalucian tourists) increased substantially in 2021 with close to 20 million tourists helping the economy of the tourism and especially the hotel sector. Of the 20 million 77% were national and about half of the national are Andalucian residents travelling within Andalucia helping the local destination economy but not the Andalucian economy. At FITUR (January 2022) (Hosteltur)  Juan Marin, the Andalucia Tourism minister announced  that the estimate for 2022 was 26 million tourists (ie 80% of 2019 levels) and 2023 would see the return to pre-pandemic 2019 levels of 32.5 million. On 9th August Arturo Bernal, the new Andalucian tourism minister in a Cadena SER radio interview revised the 2022 estimate up to 30m and again to almost 31m in a 23rd December Cadena SER interview. The final figure published in Feb 23 was 30.769.974.


Official Data by INE for 2022, recorded 10.0 million  international arrivals to Andalucia compared to 12.0 million in 2019; the last year of “normality”. This is 83% so there was still a long way to go in terms of 2022 catching up to pre-pandemic figures. However international arrivals were headed in the right direction, reaching over 92% in August, November and December.

Andalucia is dependent on airplane seat availability for most of its international tourism.  Given that most flights are nearly full thanks to price yield management, international tourism numbers can be estimated  as soon as the airline schedules are published. AENA and the tourist boards do this analysis. Andalucia announced at the ‘Fly Andalucia Summit’ in October 2021 that routes would be almost back to 2019 levels in 2022. This was repeated at the WTM in London in November with respect to UK routes. However routes is not the same as flights nor seats. Mapping by Andalucia.com noted post a pandemic increase in routes with less frequency in flights.

At the end of March AENA (as reported Dario Sur ) had calculated seats from the summer season (27-March to 29 Oct 2022) schedules. "Airlines are currently offering 16.2 million seats to (and from)  Malaga from different destinations and this is 3.6% more than 2019" (schedule prediction). Actual figures for April to October 2022 were 14.1m passenger movements, ie 90% of the 2022 schedules calculation; presumably due to cancelled flights and unsold seats. Naturally this did not forsee the wave of airport  capacity chaos that erupted after the summer timetable was implemented in April, nor the strikes and other airline cancellations and off-putting baggage chaos in the summer of 2022.

So in early 2022 it looked like International tourism still had a long way to recover, and even more so from the UK. Francis Salado head of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board ( Dario Sur and El Español ) seems to recognise this judging by their 2022 strategy to focus on France, Germany, Belgium and Denmark and "We are going to focus attention on the national market, as well as undertake an offensive without precedence to avoid excessive dependency on the UK market".

However at a Hispano-British forum in Malaga on 30th September 2022 he announced a policy U-turn. "It is clear that British tourists are still supporting the Costa del Sol destination, although the 2019 figures have not yet recovered." Faced with this situation, the head of the Costa del Sol tourist board announced that various campaigns will be undertaken in the British market, some of them to capture the so-called 'energy nomads' from the UK in order to recover a market that is "enormously loyal to our destination". ( Dario Sur).

However the percentage of tourists arriving from UK  into Andalucia was lower than the overall international tourists with 2.4m in 2022 compared to 3.0m in 2019. This is 80%. The monthly percentages show a peaked in summer - August was 91%, before dropping to 77%  in December.


Official Data by INE for Jan to July 2023, recorded 6.8 million  international arrivals to Andalucia overtaking 6.9 million in 2019; this generated headlines in Malaga press. It can therefor be said that Andalucia Tourism returned to pre-pandemic normality in mid 2023.

However international arrivals were not the same for all countries. The UK which is Andalucia biggest country of tourist arrivals still has a way to go. 2023 started at 76% in January and has increased month on month to 93% in July. 

Recovery of International and British Tourists in 2022 and 2023

Month International Tourists
(2022 as % of 2019)
International Tourists
(2023 as % of 2019)
British Tourists
(2022 as % of 2019)
British Tourists
(2023 as % of 2019)
January 56% 99% 39% 76%
February 68% 97% 54% 78%
March 72% 95% 66% 93%
April 80% 102% 78% 85%
May 86% 101% 81% 87%
June 81% 93% 90% 86%
July 89% 107% 85% 93%
August 92%   91% %
September 81%   87% %
October 88%   78% %
November 97%   90% %
December 96%   77% %

Passenger movement statistics published by AENA

Passenger movement statistics published by AENA paint a similar picture. International passengers  increased month by month. January was 61%, February was 76%, March was 82%, April was 85%, May was 90%, June was 86%, July was 85%, August 96%. Passengers on flights to or from the UK seem to have leveled  in the low 80s per cent. January 2022 was 40%, February 61%, March 72%, April 82%,  May 84%, June 83%, July 82%, August was 81% of 2019.

Easter week of 2022 was notably more popular and by summer Spain and other countries had all but eliminated travel restrictions. The Andalucian tourist board was also trying to encourage visits from international destinations with the Andalucia Big music festival  in Malaga in early September aiming for 30% overseas attendees. The easing of restrictions paired with the events seemed promising as international arrivals peaked at 92% in August and finished at 96% in December. 

We estimated that 2022 would  close at 80% overall (of international tourist arrivals as a % of 2019) and it closed on 83%. This shows the travel situation is more complex.  

International arrivals to Andalucia  in mid 2023 overtook 2019 it can therefor be said that Andalucia Tourism returned to pre-pandemic normality in mid 2023.  However UK which is Andalucia biggest country of tourist arrivals still has a way to go - reaching 93% in July 2023. 


Published 07-06-2022. Updated as monthly data released on 14-06-2022, 24-07-2022, 10-08-2022, 14-09-2022, 24-12-2022, 09-02-2023, 01-10-2023.

Living in Andalucia