ETC: Europe Travel Growth to Continue Despite Terrorism Concerns

Reykjavik, Iceland - Boyloso/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images
Iceland was the fastest-growing destination in Europe for 2016. // Photo by Boyloso/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

The European Travel Commission (ETC) has released its full-year tourism numbers for 2016 and outlook for 2017, and the numbers show signs of modest growth despite fears of terrorism and an unsettled political environment.

According to the report, Europe welcomed 615 million international tourist arrivals in 2016, up 2 percent year over year. The ETC described the outlook for this year as “upbeat,” with a forecast of between 2 and 3 percent growth.

“Year-to-date results indicate a positive start to the year,” the ETC said in the report. “The majority of reporting destinations showed robust growth over this period reflecting the positive demand from major intra-regional and long-haul source markets. The solid performance in the sector is sustained by strong promotional efforts to reduce seasonality, low level of oil prices which continue to be passed onto travelers, favorable exchange rates and improved air connectivity.”

Zooming in on the United States as a source market, tourist arrivals from the U.S. grew 6 percent in 2016, and the ETC said that the prospects for further growth this year “looks high” due to the continued strength of the dollar.

The growth forecast comes despite concerns over political instability and terrorism. Last week the U.S. State Department issued an updated travel alert for Europe, citing recent terrorist attacks and the potential for extremists to target tourist areas during the summer travel season. The travel alert is set to last through September 1.

At the same time, however, the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union (EU), elected recently not to suspend visa-free travel between the United States and Europe, removing one potential obstacle to travel to the region. The European Commission statement had been the latest twist in a long-running dispute over visa reciprocity between the U.S. and EU member states.

Top Destinations

In terms of destinations, Iceland was the fastest-growing country, with year-over-year growth of 54 percent buoyed by a surge in air capacity on transatlantic routes. Other top fast-growing destinations were:

  • Cyprus (+26%)
  • Portugal (+25%)
  • Malta (+23%)
  • Bulgaria (+19%)
  • Finland (+18%)
  • Estonia (+13%)

Travel to Turkey fell 8 percent in the continuation of a downward trend that began in 2015, the ETC said.

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