Portugal tourist arrivals spike 12 percent to new record in 2017

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LISBON (Reuters) - The number of foreign tourists visiting Portugal rose nearly 12 percent last year to a record 12.7 million people, contributing to the once-bailed out country’s strongest economic growth since 2000, official data showed on Wednesday.

Tourism and all travel-related revenues account for about 10 percent of Portugal’s gross domestic product, which expanded 2.7 percent last year. The tourism sector is also a key source of employment and big component of exports of services.

Preliminary data from the National Statistics Institute (INE) also showed that total hotel revenues in the Atlantic coast country, including domestic tourism, soared nearly 17 percent to 3.4 billion euros ($4.20 billion).

Both the arrivals and revenues grew at approximately the same strong pace as in 2016.

Tourism has been growing steadily since 2011, with hundreds of new hotels and thousands of refurbished apartments for tourists opening across Portugal, promoting the country to one of the top 3 hottest travel destinations worldwide for 2018, according to the Lonely Plant travel book publishers.

Portugal lures tourists, foreigners and natives alike with its sandy beaches, mediaeval castles, golfing, and also some of the lowest prices for wining and dining in western Europe. Pop star Madonna last year became the most illustrious of a growing number of foreign residents in Portugal.

British tourists comprised the largest group of visitors last year, but with the smallest increase of just 1 percent from a year ago, while there were bigger jumps of over 30 percent in arrivals of visitors from the United States, Poland and Brazil.

Reporting By Andrei Khalip; editing by Axel Bugge/Mark Heinrich