In a globalized world that is connected more than ever, there is a growing need for ‘the local’. This is also the case in Spain and Portugal. The economy is getting back on track, and tourist numbers are heading for all-time records. In some cases, this leads to so much resistance on a local level, that for example the city of Barcelona decided to put a stop on new hotel developments. Of course, everything is about finding the right balance. So, let’s take a closer look at the numbers.
For both Spain and Portugal, the number of visitors is at an all-time high. The number of tourists visiting Portugal almost doubled in 10 years to 12.7 million in 2017. In Spain the number of visitors grew about 40% to 81.2 million in the same period , making it the third most visited country in the world , and it is expected that Spain will take over the second position of the United States soon. The most popular destinations in Spain are Barcelona and Madrid, with both more than 12 million visitors . With a population of respectively 1.6 million and 3.2 million, this means that the number of tourists outnumbers the number of inhabitants multiple times.
Of the 95,000 international students in Spain about half comes from the Erasmus program. In Portugal this is about one third of the 42,500 international students. This number almost tripled compared to 10 years ago , showing the growing popularity of Portugal as a study destination for European students. In the top 10 of most popular universities among Erasmus+ participants from across Europe  five are Spanish. The University of Granada is most popular, followed by the Complutense University of Madrid, the University of Valencia, and the Polytechnic University of Valencia .
Edutourism is also becoming more and more popular: doing a course while being on holiday. While some of them come for cooking courses, or learning the flamenco, a relatively large number of people comes to learn the Spanish language. This group tends to stay about a month on average .
The total economic impact of tourism is higher, but per person the impact is higher for international students. This is of course related to their longer stay in the country. Of course, economic impact is not the only reason why Spain or Portugal should focus even more on the international student. In contrast to the fleeting presence of mass tourists, international students are more inclined to connect with the local community. They can learn from the locals, but definitely contribute to society as well. A good example are the programmes of SocialErasmus. For example, they organise visits to schools so that young kids get in touch with other cultures that might inspire them, but they also organise visits to elderly houses. Next to this, international students can also be a language buddy for locals who want to practice their English. International students definitely add dynamics to local environments, which can be an enrichment for everyone.