The number of UK tourists visiting Spain in the key summer month of July declined more than 5% this year as the destination saw its first fall in overall visitors for nine years.
In a further sign of holidaymakers moving back to the eastern Med, Turkey’s total international arrivals in July went up by 11.7% to reach 5.7 million.
Spain welcomed 9.98 million international tourists in July, down by 4.9% on the same month in 2017. The UK remained its top market with 2.2 million arrivals, despite the 5.6% year-on-year decline.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s UK arrivals rose 27.6% to 355,000 in July – up from 278,000 in July 2017. In the year to August, the number of British visitors to Turkey has increased 37% to 1.2 million.
Spain remains the top destination for major UK operators, including Tui and Thomas Cook, but an increase in hotel costs has eaten into their margins. This has led to more demand for other destinations like Turkey, Greece and Croatia where margins are higher.
Turkey is also benefiting from a 40% fall in the lira’s value since the start of the year. But one factor holding back growth has been a reduction in airline capacity following Monarch’s demise in October 2017.
Akin Koc, managing director of Diamond Sky Holidays, said: “There’s so much demand that flight prices have been really high - even in low season - because nobody has filled the gap left by Monarch.
I hope another independent airline will come into the market for next year as there’s definitely space for another airline with such strong demand.”
Can Deniz, managing director of Just Sunshine Holidays, agreed high flight prices to Turkey of up to £800 in late August were a problem this summer but he was “confident” there would be more airline capacity in 2019 to help bring down these prices.
“I would urge travel agents to compare prices for Turkey and Tunisia with other short-haul European destinations – Spain, Portugal and Greece – as you will get a lot more for your money in Turkey and Tunisia," he said.
"You will pay double for a five star hotel in Spain or Greece compared with Turkey.”
He added sales to Tunisia this summer had “not been as high as expected”, which he attributed to high flight prices: “With the tour operators’ lack of capacity, they kept prices very high to Tunisia,” added Deniz.
“Capacity will increase next year and we will have our own charters from Gatwick and Manchester for the first time since 2015.”
The switch back to the eastern Med is also reflected in James Villas Holidays’ list of its fastest growing destinations in 2018, with the Greek islands occupying five of the top 10 spots – headed by Kefalonia, Crete and Rhodes - while other eastern Med destinations like Cyprus and Istria in Croatia also featured.
Although Spain’s numbers have dipped, the country has seen record arrivals for each of the past five years, and it continues to be in high demand despite higher hotel prices.
Gary Lewis, chief executive of The Travel Network Group, added: “The mainstream destinations of Spain, Greece and Turkey have all performed well overall [this summer].”