Europe Trends: The Recession, The Recovery and The Impact

With tourism back on the rise six months after a troubling 2009, we asked several tour operators to comment on how travel to Europe had changed in the last two years, and how the recession affected transatlantic travel.

By and large, most operators agreed, the first half of 2010 has been much better than 2009. David Costabile, associate director of product of international for Collette Vacations, credits the upturn to regions lowering their prices to increase business. “The euro and pound have also come down considerably to allow for more competitive pricing versus other global destinations,” he noted. The gambit worked, and while people are definitely more sensitive to pricing, “they are not necessarily looking for the lowest price, but rather the most value,” Costabile adds. “Bookings have come closer-in and clients are continuing to travel with companies they trust.”

Tom Armstrong says Tauck is now seeing “double-digit increases in every region across Europe,” and that some bookings are even exceeding 2008 levels. As for the recession’s long-term impact on travel, he isn’t sure anything really has changed—only been delayed. “A lot of people who might otherwise have traveled to Europe last year either didn't travel at all, or they stayed closer to home,” he said. “That resulted in a huge amount of pent-up demand for Europe that was unleashed this year when the economy began showing signs of recovery.”

Jennifer Halboth, marketing director for the Globus family of brands (Globus, Cosmos, Monograms and Avalon Waterways), said that Europe has made a “tremendous comeback” in 2010—“currently we are up 57 percent across all our brands, with Avalon leading the way, up 78 percent.” She has noticed some lingering changes, however: “Bookings are closer in, as people either look for deals or just want to be more sure they can afford to go.” On the other hand, she noted, “the dip resulted in a lot of pent-up demand, which we see playing out now, and anticipate it continuing as we move into the 2011 selling season.”

River cruises have become one of the hottest ways of exploring numerous European cities in one trip, but even this blooming new niche felt the pinch. Guy Young, president of Uniworld, says that his company’s  European river cruise sales are currently 16 percent ahead of 2008 and 25 percent ahead of 2009. “This is a sign of not only greater confidence in the economy, but traveler’s desire for unique experiences and enrichment, and greater appreciation for river cruising…The currently favorable dollar/euro exchange rate also contributes to the value component.”

Like Costabile, Young sees an increased demand for value-for-money in European travel. “Consumers have started paying more attention to value (vs price), convenience and how satisfied they will return from their vacation,” he said. “While many travelers decided to simplify as result of the recession, they sent a message confirming the growing importance of vacation as a time to relax, unwind, get together with friends and family. Greater attention is now given to the experiences one gets from travel—culinary, art [and] social wellness.”