• A new study by the Observatorio de Ecoturismo en España (Spanish Ecotourism Observatory) has revealed how ecotourism in Spain is transforming its economic landscape, especially in its most rural areas.
  • In 2019, 289 ecotourism accommodation business received an estimated total of 781,654 guests producing an economic impact of over €230 million.
  • Meanwhile, 208 sustainable tourism activity companies received over 1.3 million clients, generating an economic impact of over €160 million and directly creating 1,414 jobs.

A new study from the Observatorio de Ecoturismo en España (Spanish Ecotourism Observatory) has shown the overwhelmingly positive impacts that ecotourism is having on Spain’s most rural areas. The Spanish Ecotourism Observatory is an initiative created by the Secretary of State for Tourism and the Association of Ecotourism in Spain in 2017 with the goal of identifying and tracking the success of ecotourism in 2019 and the corresponding impact ecotourism has had in Spain’s most rural areas.

España vaciada” is a term coined to highlight the effects of the migrating population from rural areas to built-up cities. Figures from the Spanish Institute for Statistics (INE) show how areas such as Soria have seen a 23% reduction in population size while areas like Madrid have seen a 73% increase in population size. The migratory phenomenon of España vaciada is having a devastating economic impact on these rural areas.

The new study showed that 289 establishments from Spain’s Ecotourism Club offering accommodation received a total of 781,654 guests during 2019 which accumulated an economic impact of over €230 million and directly created 4,249 jobs. Meanwhile, 208 businesses offering ecotourism activities had over 1.3 million clients resulting in an economic impact of over €160 million and directly creating 1,414 jobs. Furthermore, figures from the study show that the ecotourism sector was on the up before the arrival of the pandemic. More than half (54%) of the business were experiencing growth between 2017 and 2019.

According to the Ecotourism Declaration of Daimiel (2016), “ecotourism is visiting a natural area to discover it, enjoy it and explore it, while appreciating and contributing in a practical way to its conservation, without a negative impact on the environment and generating positive impacts for the local population”. The number of visitors to Spain’s natural spaces had continued to grow before the pandemic with over 31 million tourists arriving in 2018. According to data from EUROPARC-Spain, the national parks alone received 15.4 million visitors in 2018, a 52% increase on figures from 2009.

Ecotourists often know the area where they plan to travel to and, in a recent survey, 64% of ecotourists had taken a recommendation on their destination from family or friends. The demographics of ecotourism show that the traveller is typically between 39 and 65 years of age with a medium-high level of income, a tertiary education and travels at least once a year. Spain’s most popular ecotourism regions are Castilla-La Mancha, La Gomera in the Canary Islands, Catalonia, Andalucía, Asturias and the Pyrenees.

To that effect, this latest study’s figures bode well for Spain’s most rural areas where national parks, geoparks and biosphere reserves offers visitors walking and cycling routes, environmental education, flora and fauna observation, cultural activities, and more.

At present, the challenge for the observatory is to evaluate the impact that the pandemic has had on the sector and on the profile of customers, the results of which will be announced shortly.


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