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Tourism Spain

Tourism in numbers - Europe

Europe is the most important tourist region in the world. According to UNWTO, in 2006 nearly 55% of all international tourist arrivals (461 million) were on the “old continent”. Southern Europe and the Mediterranean region are the favourite holiday destinations in Europe. According to UNWTO, in 2006 about 165 million tourists visited these regions (15).

At present, the predominant summer tourist flows in Europe are from north to south, to the coastal zone. However, coastal and mountain tourism are the segments that are most vulnerable to climate change, and the Mediterranean region is the world's most popular holiday region: it attracts some 120 million visitors from northern Europe each year, the largest international flow of tourists on the globe, and their spending is in excess of EUR 100 billion (13).

Tourism in numbers - Spain

Spain is – in terms of international tourist arrivals – the second favourite holiday destination after France, with a global market share of approx. 7%. The country has a high proportion of foreign visitors (2006: 59%). The tourism sector, with its very high proportion of GDP – currently about 17% – makes a considerable contribution to Spain's economy (15).

Vulnerabilities – In general

There are four broad categories of climate change impacts that will affect tourism destinations, their competitiveness and sustainability (14):

  • Direct climatic impacts
  • Indirect environmental change impacts. Changes in water availability, biodiversity loss, reduced landscape aesthetic, altered agricultural production (e.g., wine tourism), increased natural hazards, coastal erosion and inundation, damage to infrastructure and the increasing incidence of vector-borne diseases will all impact tourism to varying degrees.
  • Impacts of mitigation policies on tourist mobility. Policies that seek to reduce GHG emissions will lead to an increase in transport costs and may foster environmental attitudes that lead tourists to change their travel patterns.
  • Indirect societal change impacts. Climate change is thought to pose a risk to future economic growth and to the political stability of some nations. Climate change is considered a national and international security risk that will steadily intensify, particularly under greater warming scenarios. Tourists, particularly international tourists, are averse to political instability and social unrest.

Vulnerabilities - Spain

Overall, Spain's tourism industry will be among the losers from climate change (15).

In the Mediterranean states, increasing average temperatures, together with the increasing probability of heatwaves, could result in temperatures exceeding comfortable levels more frequently in the future. It is estimated that, by 2030, the region will have a noticeable increase in the number of days with temperatures above 40°C. Other problems are shortages of water, that restrict the operation of tourist facilities (swimming pools, golf courses), and increasing risk of forest fires in many areas. The return of malaria to the southern Mediterranean region also cannot be ruled out (15).

Within Spain, the southern and eastern mainland could lose the most from climate change. In comparison, the temperature rises in the Balearics and Canaries will be lower. The aim of the affected regions should be increasingly to attract tourists in the off-peak season, in order to balance losses at the height of summer. This is hardly likely to be completely successful, as summer tourism in particular is based on fixed holiday dates (15).


Water shortages could endanger the functional or economic viability of certain tourist areas. The sea level rise could threaten certain settlements and tourist infrastructures (1). 80% of tourists that visit Spain go to the coast (2). The tourism sector makes a significant contribution to the Spanish economy and accounted for 10.7% of gross domestic product in 2007 (3).


Up to the 2020s, the projected changes of conditions for tourism in the Balearics will probably be relatively modest. By the 2080s, however, the situation will have changed completely. Conditions for tourism in the three months that are currently the most popular ones (July, August and September), will be much worse. Of the current six high-season months only in May the conditions will still be good by then according to all scenarios. Spring conditions in the 2080s will be very good or excellent. … Given the fact that in the Balearics, tourism accounts for over 60% of GDP (4), the impacts may be substantial. Whereas ideal conditions are projected to decrease from mid-century for the summery peak season, an increase of tourism conditions is anticipated in spring and autumn (the shoulder seasons) throughout the century (17).

The availability of drinking water and sewage systems has been a problem in the Balearics for a long time (5). The annual influx of tourists increases the demand for water well beyond the normal requirements of the resident population and the capabilities of local water sources (6). Moreover, tourists typically use relatively more water than local inhabitants (7); the amount of water that is used to irrigate Majorca’s golf courses would be enough to supply the populations of the major resorts of Calvià and the capital city of Palma with drinking water (8). The highest water consumption per capita and day are observed in the exclusive residential tourism areas that also have the highest percentages of gardens and swimming pools per parcel. Water consumption per capita and day is three times higher for “quality tourism”, with more irrigated gardens and swimming pools, compared with traditional mass tourist resorts (21). Water demand for tourism and irrigation is highest in the main holiday season, which coincides with the driest weather. In contrast, virtually all precipitation on the largest island of Majorca occurs in the autumn and winter months, with the wettest months typically being October to December (9).

The rising demand for water has been met by increased extractions of groundwater. Around Palma, the water table has fallen by about 100 metres between 1973 and 1994 (10). Large water shortages are forecast for the future (11) and climate change is expected to exacerbate the situation by reducing precipitation even further (6,9). Perhaps the expected reduction in tourist visitation levels in summer could bring some relief.

Canary Islands

In contrast, the effects on the Canary Islands will be less pronounced. Their increased proximity to the equator and subtropical climate mean that temperatures will not rise so much and the differences between the summer and winter seasons will remain relatively small. Even in the future, this will guarantee balanced occupation of tourist capacity over the year and will increase the independence of this holiday destination from climate change (15).

However, the Canary Islands are suffering from increasing susceptibility to forest fires. An increase in what were formerly rare weather phenomena (e.g. cyclones, dry periods) could lead to increasing damage to the infrastructure and, on some islands (e.g. Fuerteventura and Lanzarote), make the water supply, which is already complicated and costly, even more difficult and expensive (desalination, tanker ships) (15).

Northern Atlantic Coast

The winner in Spain is the northern Atlantic coast. Here, an increase in the moderate temperatures and lower levels of precipitation could have a positive effect on the attractiveness of holiday regions (e.g. Galicia, Astoria, Cantabria) that so far have mainly been favoured by domestic tourists (15,20). However, with its present approximately 5% share of Spain's international tourism, and considerably lower tourist capacity in comparison with southern Spain, the Atlantic coast will not be able to compensate for the setbacks in growth or losses of turnover suffered by the Mediterranean region (15).


City holidays to Spain (especially Barcelona and Madrid) will generally be unaffected by climate change, as most visitors already travel there out of the summer month season (15).

Winter sport Pyrenees

An analysis of snow cover duration and snow depth from December to April in the Pyrenees at 1,500 and 2,100 m a.s.l. for the period 1958-2017 showed that snow cover duration and average depth decreased during the full study period, but this was only statistically significant at 2,100 m a.s.l. In general, the most western massifs of the French Pyrenees underwent a greater decrease in the snowpack, while in some eastern massifs the snowpack did not decrease, and in some cases increased at 1,500 m a.s.l. (26).

The vulnerability of the Pyrenean ski resorts to projected changes in the snowpack under various future climate scenarios has been analyzed (16,22). The Pyrenees is a 450-km-long mountain range comprising the northern part of Spain, the southern part of France, and Andorra. Altitude ranges from 300 m to over 3000 m. The Pyrenees is the most important winter tourism region in Europe after the Alps (23). The elevation of the Pyrenean ski resorts ranges from 1350 to 2700 m with a mean elevation of approximately 1950 m.

A shorter ski-season length is projected especially in low-altitude ski resorts in a moderate climate change scenario (the so-called SRES B2 scenario: 2°C increase at the end of the 21st century) and for all ski resorts in a more intensive climate change scenario (the so-called SRES A2 scenario: 4°C increase at the end of the 21st century) (22).

Average minimum snow depth to operate a ski resort is assumed to be 30 cm (24). Ski resorts reaching the 30-cm threshold during at least 100 days per winter season (natural and artificial snow combined) are considered as being reliable. At present, 83% of the ski resorts are considered naturally reliable in an average winter season, and 98% when snowmaking capacity is taken into account. Assuming a future increase of 2°C in winter mean temperature, this share would be reduced to 44 % (85% including snowmaking). Under 4°C winter temperature increase the total share of reliable ski resorts in the Pyrenees would be dramatically reduced to only 7% (and no improvement with snowmaking) (22).

Snowpack is most affected by climate change in the eastern part of the Spanish Pyrenees; south-oriented slopes are most vulnerable. Pyrenean ski resorts closer to the Atlantic Ocean, located at higher elevations, and/or with northerly orientation are most resilient (22). Spatial distribution of snow in mountain areas is characterized by high variability within very short distances due to complex interaction between meso-scale meteorology, local topography, and weather factors (25).

Snowmaking cannot completely solve the problem for all ski resorts in the Pyrenees, as the measure can only act as a robust adaptation strategy in the region provided climate change is limited to +2 °C snowmaking (16,22). 

Adaptation strategies – In general

Climate change is slowly entering into decision-making of a range of tourism stakeholders (e.g., investors, insurance companies, tourism enterprises, governments, and tourists); studies that have examined the climate change risk appraisal of local tourism officials and operators have consistently found relatively low levels of concern and little evidence of long-term strategic planning in anticipation of future changes in climate (14).

There is also some evidence that local tourism operators may be overestimating their adaptive capacity (e.g., capacity to make snow under the warmest scenarios). The incorporation of adaptation to climate change into the collective minds of private and public sector tourism decision-makers (‘mainstreaming’) remains several steps away (14).

The capacity of the tourism sector to adapt to climate change is thought to be relatively high due to its dynamic nature and therefore there will be important opportunities for tourism to reduce the vulnerability of communities to climate change (14).

Adaptation strategies - Spain

Mediterranean summer tourism

In the Mediterranean region, the likely reduction of tourism during the hotter summer months may be compensated for by promoting changes in the temporal pattern of seaside tourism, for example by encouraging visitors during the cooler months (12,18,19, 20). Climate change may even be beneficial for the Mediterranean tourist industry if it levels-out demand, reducing the summer peak, while increasing occupancy in the shoulder seasons. In the absence of such adjustments, the Mediterranean tourist industry will be among the main losers (13).

Northern Spanish provinces

Northern Spanish provinces should learn from the experience of southern ones in managing tourism development, both at private and public level. Then, business managers and hotel planners should consider the increased investments in these provinces advancing the increase in tourist numbers in these regions. At the same time, public administration should manage urban planning and land development according to sustainable development principles and avoiding the overcrowding of tourism supply that characterise some regions in the Mediterranean Spanish coastline (20).

Winter sport Pyrenees

Snowmaking cannot completely solve the problem of ensuring snow cover at low elevation ski resorts, and should only be considered as a suitable short-term strategy, rather than a sustainable long-term adaptation strategy. Even if the climatic conditions are favourable to produce snow efficiently, snowmaking can turn into an uneconomic adaptation strategy for some ski operators (security of water supplies, infrastructure and energy costs) and an unacceptable state of affairs for the ecosystem services in some regions (16). Snowmaking cannot completely solve the problem for all ski resorts in the Pyrenees, as the measure can only act as a robust adaptation strategy in the region provided climate change is limited to +2 °C snowmaking (22).


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Spain.

  1. Oficina Española de Cambio Climático (2008)
  2. Comisión de Coordinación de Políticas de Cambio Climático (2007)
  3. Government of Spain. Quinta Comunicación Nacional de España
  4. Batle (2000), in: Amelung and Viner (2006)
  5. Aguiló et al.(2005), in: Amelung and Viner (2006)
  6. Essex et al.(2004), in: Amelung and Viner (2006)
  7. Holden (2000), in: Amelung and Viner (2006)
  8. Essex et al.(2004), in: Amelung and Viner (2006)
  9. Kent et al.(2002), in: Amelung and Viner (2006)
  10. Wheeler (1995), in: Amelung and Viner (2006)
  11. Palmer & Riera (2003), in: Amelung and Viner (2006)
  12. Amelung and Viner (2006)
  13. EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  14. UNWTO, UNEP and WHO (2008)
  15. Deutsche Bank Research (2008)
  16. Pons et al. (2012)
  17. Amengual et al. (2012)
  18. Bujosa and Rosselló (2012)
  19. Bafaluy et al. (2014)
  20. Priego et al. (2015)
  21. Hof and Blázquez-Salom (2015)
  22. Pons et al. (2015)
  23. Vanat (2014), in: Pons et al. (2015)
  24. Witmer (1986); Abegg et al. (2007); Scott et al. (2008); Steiger (2010), all in: Pons et al. (2015)
  25. Green and Pickering (2009), in: Pons et al. (2015)
  26. López-Moreno et al. (2020)