The European Travel Commission (ETC) has released the latest edition of its quarterly report, “European Tourism Trends & Prospects.” The report revealed that following a summer of strong tourism demand, international tourist arrivals to Europe are only 3.2 percent below 2019 levels, and nights are down by 1.3 percent for the January-September period. The rebound is being driven by resilient intra-European travel and the influx of U.S. tourists benefiting from favorable exchange rates. The report provides an overview of Europe’s tourism performance over the summer months and its implications on the outlook for the shoulder season.
Year-to-date data found that around one in three reporting destinations have surpassed 2019 levels of foreign arrivals. Europe’s recovery was mostly driven by Southern European and Mediterranean destinations, notably Serbia (+15 percent), Montenegro (+14 percent), Portugal (+11 percent), Türkiye (+8 percent), Malta and Greece (both +7 percent). However, around 65 percent of reporting destinations are still below pre-pandemic figures. Slower recoveries are particularly evident among Eastern European countries neighboring Russia and Ukraine, and those that are normally reliant on Russian travelers. The Baltic countries have registered the sharpest declines: Estonia (-27 percent), Latvia (-30 percent), and Lithuania (-33 percent).
Miguel Sanz, ETC’s president, said: “Despite persistent economic and geopolitical challenges, it is encouraging to observe the ongoing rebound of European tourism. However, we must acknowledge that the true measure of tourism success extends beyond the number of visitors and nights spent at a destination. It is essential to also consider and evaluate its impact on nature, local businesses, and the resident population. As Europe’s tourism industry recovers, we should strive to develop innovative, sustainable metrics to better define its overall health and progress.”
European travel recovery remained resilient during the summer season, even amid challenges posed by increased inflation, high costs of living, extreme weather events and airline strikes.
Persistent geopolitical instability continues to have repercussions on Europe’s tourism outlook. The ongoing war in Ukraine still affects arrivals figures in Eastern Europe and the developing conflict in Israel poses risks going into the shoulder season, especially for destinations such as France, Türkiye and Romania which are popular with Israeli travelers.
Nevertheless, foreign arrivals to Europe are expected to continue recovering by the end of 2023, albeit at a slower pace, reaching 91 percent of pre-pandemic levels for the whole year. Forecasts suggest that international tourist arrivals in Europe will reach 2019 levels by 2024, a year earlier than initially predicted. Meanwhile, European airports are close to reaching a complete recovery in passenger demand. Based on ACI Europe’s August traffic report, passenger traffic across the European airport network is down by just 3.4 percent compared to the same period in 2019.
Despite increased financial pressures, consumers continue to prioritize travel spending over other discretionary expenses. However, due to high prices, tourists are now placing a greater emphasis on value for money when considering tourism products and experiences.
In particular, an increasing number of vacationers are opting for destinations that are perceived as more affordable. Lower prices and favorable exchange rates are driving the tourism recovery in destinations such as Türkiye and Bulgaria, while popular package holiday destinations such as Portugal and Spain are also experiencing high demand. Europeans are considering a wider range of destinations than in the pre-pandemic period, with Türkiye, Montenegro, Albania, and Croatia being the top performers for overnight stays relative to 2019 levels.
Furthermore, travelers are increasingly employing a number of tactics to lower the overall cost of their holiday. Many are opting to book their transportation and accommodation well in advance or considering off-peak trips in the shoulder season. Package holidays are also increasing in popularity as these afford the traveler confidence that all essential costs are already accounted for.