MADRID: Spain welcomed a record number of foreign visitors for a fifth straight year in 2017, despite a double-digit drop in arrivals at the end of the year in crisis-hit Catalonia, official data showed Thursday.
The number of international tourists visiting the country rose 8.6 percent year-on-year to hit 81.8 million, half of them from Britain, Germany and France, according to national statistics institute INE which confirmed government figures released last month.
That would make Spain the world's second most visited country after France, pushing the United States into third place.
France has still not published final figures for 2017 but its foreign ministry estimates the country received 89 million international visitors.
Spain, where tourism accounts for around 10 percent of the economy, has seen a surge in international visitors to its cities and beaches partly due to security concerns in other popular sunshine holiday destinations such as Egypt and Turkey.
British tourists remained Spain's largest group of visitors by nationality, accounting for 18.8 million tourists, followed by Germany, which provided 11.9 million and France with 11.2 million.
Catalonia remained Spain's most visited region, with 19 million foreign visitors, despite political uncertainty there that began with a banned independence referendum on October 1, as well as Islamist attacks in Barcelona and a nearby seaside resort in August that killed 16 people.
But the region posted a smaller rise in the number of visitors -- just 5.0 percent -- than the national average.
In a sign that the political uncertainty may be keeping tourists away, the number of foreign visitors to Catalonia dropped in December by 13.9 percent when compared to the same month in 2016.
By comparison the southern region of Andalusia, which takes in Malaga and the Costa del Sol, long been popular with British tourists, received 11.5 million foreign visitors last year, an 8.9 percent increase over 2016.