In 2018, China overtook Japan to become Spain's largest source of Asian tourists, and consolidated itself as a strategic market, according to Dario Polo Rodriguez, tourism counselor of the Spanish Embassy in China.
"Despite the delay in recognizing the potential of the Chinese market, Spain has been redoubling efforts to offer a pleasant experience to the growing number of Chinese visitors to the country," Polo said.
During the Lunar New Year holiday, many Chinese chose to travel abroad, and Spain was among the most popular destinations.
Spain was the number one destination in Europe visited by the Chinese during the Spring Festival holiday season, followed by Italy, according to a report issued by Dragon Trail, a travel marketing consultant firm.
In 2018, 649,032 Chinese tourists visited Spain, representing accumulated growth of 128 percent over three years, according to official statistics from Spain.
With an average spend per person of 2,563 euros, Chinese travelers contributed over 1.66 billion euros a year to Spain's tourism industry.
"The Spanish tourism sector has come with certain delay to recognizing the importance and potential of the Chinese source market," said Polo, who stressed that the situation had changed notably in recent years.
Although it has come late to the party, Spain welcomes the opportunity that the Chinese market has provided and looks to expand participation of the Chinese in its foreign tourism industry.
Since 2015, China has been designated a "strategic market" by the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism of Spain, as increasing Chinese tourist flows bring important business opportunities to the country.
Take the air transport sector as an example: At the end of 2015 there were only two direct connections between China and Spain, operated by one single airline with seven flights per week. Currently, the number of direct flights has grown to 10, operated by seven different airlines at a weekly frequency of 41 flights.
The high peaks for Chinese outbound tourism take place around the Chinese New Year, which usually falls in late January or early February, and the National Day holiday in October, which forms a positive complement to the low seasons in Spain, Polo noted.
At the International Tourism Fair that took place in Madrid at the end of January 2019, the sector showed greater interest in the Chinese market, according to Polo.