ETC Optimistic About European Travel Sector in 2022

Uncertainty brought about by the Omicron variant negatively impacted Europe’s travel and tourism sector at the end of Q4 2021, hindering prospects for its recovery in the first quarter of 2022. That said, optimism remains as the European Travel Commission (ETC) predicts tourist arrivals to be just 20 percent below pre-pandemic levels this year, despite several challenges being faced by the sector. The latest edition of the “European Tourism Trends & Prospects” quarterly report from ETC continues to monitor the COVID-19 impact, examining how travel activity is rebounding as the world learns to live with COVID-19.

Luís Araújo, ETC’s president, said, “From our report, it is clear to see the stifling impact of uncertainty brought about by Omicron. ETC is optimistic that the European travel sector will overcome Omicron and the many other challenges present in 2022; however, the sector’s resilience is contingent on the E.U. being proactive in the development of endemic strategies that will allow for the loosening of travel restrictions for intra-European and international travel alike. As we learn to live with COVID-19, governments across Europe have to strike the right balance between managing health risks and facilitating mobility.”

In 2021, strong vaccination coverage in Europe, the E.U. Digital COVID-19 Certificate and the easing of travel restrictions, set fertile grounds for a tourism revival. The emergence of the Omicron variant at the year-end, however, hampered this recovery as travel restrictions were reinstated to curb record-breaking infection rates. Tens of thousands of commercial flights throughout Europe were canceled over the Christmas period due to staffing shortages. Although not as severe as when the pandemic originally took hold in 2020, airline losses totaled €18.5 billion (approximately $21 billion) in 2021, resulting in 1.4 to 1.5 billion fewer passengers than in 2019.

This turn of events was demoralizing after a summer season of promising recovery. Overall, year-to-date data informs estimates of a 62 percent dip in tourist arrivals to Europe in 2021 over 2019 levels. ETC notes that European destinations continue to recover at varying rates. Croatia (-37 percent), France (-39 percent) and Monaco (-40 percent) saw the softest declines based on data to December, owing to demand from neighboring and large European source markets. At the same time, sizable declines were registered in Finland (-80 percent) and central/Eastern destinations: the Czech Republic (-81 percent), Latvia (-78 percent), Estonia (-77 percent), Slovakia (-76 percent) and Lithuania (-74 percent).

2022 Outlook

While Omicron is expected to stifle the recovery of Europe’s travel sector in the first quarter of 2022, the travel outlook for the continent as a whole remains positive. With the realization that the new variant, although highly contagious, is far from the threat it was initially deemed to be, several travel bans in Europe are being lifted.

Driven by strong domestic and intra-European travel, the overall travel demand is projected to be 20 percent below pre-pandemic levels in 2022. While domestic travel is expected to exceed pre-pandemic peaks in 2022, international travel will be slower on the uptake and is not likely to fully recover until 2024.

An extremely positive development in Q4 2021 was the resumption of travel between Europe and the U.S., which took place in November 2021, and will likely help drive European tourism recovery in 2022. ETC expects that the share of European travel from the U.S. will return to pre-pandemic levels relatively quickly, and ahead of demand from other long-haul markets, such as Asia Pacific, with significant improvement anticipated this year. Despite optimism around increased international travel, China’s prolonged “Zero COVID” stance presents a degree of uncertainty and may continue to affect global travel well into 2022.

Source: European Travel Commission

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