This weekend, the heads of several European tourism boards gathered at the New York Times Travel Show to share their insights for 2013 at a session moderated by Europe Express’ Kier Matthews. Alex Herrmann, Director Americas, Switzerland Tourism; Anne-Laure Tuncer, Director USA at Atout France (French Tourism Development Agency); Ricarda Lindner, Regional Manager The Americas, Director of the Foreign Representatives Office USA, German National Tourist Office; and Karen Clarkson, Vice President North America, VisitBritain all spoke at the session entitled “Travel Trends, Statistics, And What's New At The Most Visited Destinations In Europe.”
And, Matthews said afterwards, the overall outlook was decidedly positive. “Everybody was up from 3 percent to 4.5 percent in 2012 over 2011 for visitor numbers from the US,” he told Travel Agent Magazine. Looking ahead, all of the tourism boards are expecting 2013 to be up over 2012 by at least 2 or 3 percent.
Each country, he continued, each tourism board has their own challenges and ways of overcoming them. “VisitBritain and Atout France have concerted campaigns with their tour operator partners and their consumer marketing boards about secondary destinations within the countries,” he said. “They’re trying to say, ‘We’re not just Paris! We’re not just London!’ They’re trying to push the other destinations and talking about food experience in the south of France, or the French countryside. The UK is focusing on culture and art and museums outside of London. And it has worked in both countries since they started last year. My question to them then was ‘What are you doing to encourage people to travel to other parts of country?’ This year, I asked how the initiatives helped. They all said that they saw visitor numbers increase in other areas. It’s obviously working and they’ll continue to do that.
Both VisitBritain and Atout France have major draws for this year, with Marseilles being a Capital of Culture and London getting Europe’s tallest building when the Shard opens this spring. “That’s big news,” Matthews added.
Germany and Switzerland, on the other hand, have had to struggle with the perception that, due to their stable economies, they are too expensive to visit. And each tourism board has found a way to combat that myth. “Alex talked about the value proposition—that anything good is worth paying for,” Matthews said. “Because Switzerland has some of the strictest standards in hotel star ratings—some of strictest in the world, in fact—you can go to Switzerland and stay in a three-star hotel and find it at four-star quality. It’s a great value because of great quality.”
Lindner, meanwhile noted that the average room rate in Germany was 89 euros in 2012. “That’s about $100,” Matthews noted. “Ricarda wanted to say that Germany is affordable, and that it’s more than Berlin, Frankfurt and Hamburg. She talked about what people are doing.” Notably, Lindner said, the major automotive factories throughout Germany—including Mercedes and BMW—are getting more female visitors than male, a statistic that may well skew how the country advertises its attractions. “That’s a unique way to market!” Matthews said.
And Europe Express is also optimistic about 2013: “We grew 41 percent year over year, and we’re already up 33 percent over 2012 year to date over January 2012,” Matthews said. Last week, he added, was one of the company’s best on record. “Europe is strong from an FIT perspective, and it will remain strong.” But, he added, the actual visitor numbers seem to be dropping, even though the revenue per passenger has increased. “During the same week last year, we only increased the passenger count by 20 people, but the volume was three times as high. Twenty passengers didn’t deliver that. It means that people are spending more money per person.” The top European destinations last week by both reservations and number of passengers, were Italy, France and the UK. But in terms of revenue, the UK takes the top spot with France and Italy following. “They’re staying longer in the UK,” Matthews explained. “The average stay in France is about 3.5 nights. In the UK, the stay is 4.5 nights. If you stay longer, you pay more.”
The tourism boards are well aware of these trends, and are eager to make the most of increased numbers. “They’re bullish,” Matthews said. “These folks are ready to drive tourism. This could be one of their best years post-recession.”