Foreign tourism to Spain soars in 2021, but far below pre-pandemic level

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MADRID, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Foreign tourism to Spain rebounded 64% last year from 2020's historic coronavirus crash but failed to reach half its pre-pandemic levels, data showed on Wednesday, as shifting travel restrictions and ongoing outbreaks put off many visitors.

Just over 31 million tourists visited in 2021, up from 19 million in 2020, the National Statistics Institute (INE) said, but that was a far cry from the 83.5 million who came in 2019.

Overall, tourists spent 34.82 billion euros ($39.30 billion) in Spain last year, compared with 19.79 billion in 2020 and 91.91 billion in 2019.

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Even though Spain loosened entry restrictions in the spring in the hope of salvaging its summer season, an ever-changing patchwork of restrictions and guidelines across Europe kept a lid on foreign travel.

A sluggish start to international vaccine campaigns at the beginning of the year and the delayed launch of the European Union COVID passport also took their toll.

But arrivals data for December beat expectations despite the advance of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Some 2.95 million tourists visited the country in December, the data showed compared to just 649,000 the previous year, driving a 76% increase in expenditure.

"December has turned out better than we expected and that helps us meet the end of year forecasts", Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism Reyes Maroto said in a statement.

She said she was optimistic that 2022 would bring "close to a full recovery of the sector".

"Spain will use its advantages compared to other competing destinations," she added.

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Reporting by Inti Landauro and Christina Thykjaer; Editing by Nathan Allen and Alison Williams

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