MADRID - Madrid is known for its nightlife and world-class museums but the Spanish capital is suffering a slump in visitors which officials blame on a loss of flights to the city and weak promotion.
The number of foreign visitors to Madrid in August plunged 22 per cent over last year to 290,494, bringing the total during the first eight months of the year to 2.76 million, a 7.7 per cent drop on the year before.
But while visitors shunned Madrid, international arrivals in Spain overall were up 4.5 per cent for January through August as political unrest in other sunshine destinations popular with northern Europeans such as Egypt and Turkey boosted business at its beach resorts.
"Madrid has not failed because suddenly it stopped being attractive, it has failed because people have a hard time coming due to a lack of connectivity and there is little promotion. We have not spent the amount that we need to," said the president of the Madrid Confederation of Commerce, Hilario Alfaro.
Located in the heart of Spain, far from the architectural gems of Barcelona and the white-walled villages of Andalusia, Madrid boasts several top museums such as the Prado but has failed to develop a strong tourism brand.
"The fundamental problem is that Madrid as a destination lacks an international image like Barcelona has," said the secretary general of the Madrid Association of Hoteliers, Antonio Gil, before adding that spending by the city on tourism advertising campaigns is "clearly insufficient".
The decision by Europe's two largest budget airlines, EasyJet and Ryanair, to drastically reduce their flights to Madrid this year after Spanish airport authority AENA doubled airport taxes at the city's airport, has compounded the problem.
Ryanair cut its capacity to Madrid by 35 per cent while EasyJet stopped basing crew and aircraft in the Spanish capital and reduced seat-capacity to the city by 20 per cent.
Spain's loss-making flag carrier Iberia has also cancelled dozens of routes as part of a major restructuring following its merger with British Airways.
Madrid airport suffered the biggest slump in passenger numbers among Europe's major hubs in August with a 11.7 per cent drop to 3.8 million and was surpassed by Barcelona airport as Spain's busiest airport for the first time that month, according to data from the Airports Council International.