Before the economic crisis of 2008, Spain's tourism economy was held up as a global model of how to ascend the virtuous tourism “ladder” from budget beachfront package tours to more profitable cultural tourism that emphasizes art museums, cuisine, and heritage. This article examines how the maturation of the tourism industry in Spain became a symbol of democratization and European integration in the 1980s and 1990s. The piece then considers how the 2008 crisis challenged public confidence in the tourism economy due to the scale of the real estate crash, revelations of corruption and misappropriation of public funds, and crushing regional debt. Finally, it shows how the new political geography of Europe is divided between creditor countries, from the European core, that visit and debtor countries, in the Mediterranean, that are visited.

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