Spain said today that it had retaken the number three spot in world tourism in 2013, overtaking China by luring a record 60.6 million international visitors.

Foreign tourist arrivals surged by 5.6% in the year, the Spanish government said, boosting the euro zone's fourth largest economy after a long, tough recession.

"The new figures for 2013 allow our country to retake the number three position in this indicator after having overtaken China," Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said.

Spain now stood behind only France with 83 million international tourist arrivals and the US with 67 million, Rajoy said.

Income from foreign tourists hit record levels, too, a significant contribution to the Spanish economy, which has just emerged from five years of stop-start recession that left the nation with a 26% unemployment rate.

Spending by international tourists in the first 11 months of 2013 surged by 8.7% from the same time last year to €55.9 billion, government figures showed.

Even without the official figures for the whole year, it is already possible to say that 2013 was a record in terms of tourism spending, Rajoy said. "The implications of these figures are clear to everyone," he added.

The tourism industry accounted for 10.9% of Spain's total economic output in 2012, and 11.9% of all jobs, the prime minister said.

British tourists led the way to Spain in 2013, with some 14.3 million of them accounting for 23.6% of all foreign tourists, said the report by Spain's Industry, Energy and Tourism Ministry. Next came Germany with 16.2% of the total, France with 15.7% and Nordic countries with 8%.

Russian tourists accounted for 2.6% of the total, but their numbers showed the biggest leap, soaring by 31.6% from the previous year.

The top destinations in Spain were Catalonia, which drew 15.5 million foreign visitors, or 25.7% of the total, followed by the Balearic Islands such as Majorca with 11.1 million international arrivals, or 18.3% of the total.

Spain's economy emerged from a two-year downturn by posting 0.1% growth in the third quarter of 2013.
The economy expanded by 0.3% in the final quarter, Rajoy said, ahead of the release of official data. 

The Spanish government is tipping an economic expansion of 0.7% in 2014.