Stats: European Travel Sees Slow Recovery

The latest edition of the “European Tourism Trends & Prospects” quarterly report from the European Travel Commission (ETC) continues to monitor the COVID-19 impact on the sector, examining how travel activity is rebounding amid the current wave of infections and ongoing vaccination programs. It shows that although European travel demand is poised for a major recovery owing to the high vaccination rates in the continent, volumes are still far from the pre-pandemic days and are unlikely to be surpassed until 2024.

Luís Araújo, ETC’s president, said in a press note, “From our latest ‘European Tourism Trends & Prospects’ quarterly report, it is clear to see the critical role vaccination programs have already played in helping travel rebound. The COVID-19 vaccine rollout was vital to the easing of entry requirements and boosting the appeal of travel during the summer season. However, vaccination efforts won’t be enough. As the winter months approach, it is imperative that Europe strives to further restore the freedom of movement by implementing more holistic and coherent approaches for travel within and outside the E.U.

Europe, according to the ETC, currently has the highest vaccination rate of the world’s regions, which is expected to enable the release of pent-up demand. European destinations already enjoyed a stronger than expected summer due to successful vaccination programs. Furthermore, the creation of the EU Digital COVID-19 Certificate was key to ensuring safe travel across the region and helped to simplify cross-border mobility. As a result, intra-regional travel experienced an uplift and is set to account for 85 percent of European overseas arrivals in 2021, up from 77 percent in 2019.

The travel recovery observed has been different across destinations, with those that reopened their borders earlier to vaccinated travelers being the most favored. As the first nation to reopen to COVID-free tourists, Greece delivered the strongest rebound in overnight terms (-19 percent vs. 2019), although foreign arrivals were weak. The strongest pick up in arrivals from 2019 rates was observed in Croatia (-37 percent), which was able to extend its performance into off-season, welcoming 1.9 million tourists in September. In contrast, the Czech Republic (-94 percent) recorded the sharpest decline with stringent COVID-19 measures extended throughout the year.

All reporting European destinations enjoyed higher levels of hotel occupancy this summer compared to 2020, based on data for July-September. Several destinations reported occupancy rates close to 70 percent, including Slovenia, the U.K., Turkey and Monaco. European air-passenger growth also gained momentum over the months of June (-69 percent), July (-57 percent) and August (-49 percent) compared to 2019, although global revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs) in August remained half of pre-COVID-19 levels. The relative improvement throughout the summer months was mainly driven by domestic air travel demand.

Although European travel has made positive strides in 2021, there is still a long road ahead as international tourist arrivals to Europe were still down 77 percent half-way through the year. A slower vaccine rollout across eastern Europe, and in some large long-haul source markets, may potentially delay the recovery, presenting a lingering downside risk.

ETC also observed a notable absence of long-haul travelers, with U.S. arrivals to Europe remaining 90 percent below their 2019 levels for one third of reporting destinations. The absence of Chinese holidaymakers was also felt across Europe, with all reporting destinations posting declines over 90 percent compared to 2019.

Overall, international tourist arrivals to Europe are forecast to be 60 percent below 2019 by the end of 2021, with many other factors continuing to weigh on Europe’s tourism recovery. These include ever-changing COVID-19 restrictions and policies, renewed outbreaks and the confusion around the color-coded EU travel system applied differently across European destinations. The adoption of different systems for accepting non-EMA recognized vaccines may also continue to impact destinations heavily reliant on long-haul travel.

Source: European Travel Commission

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