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Recovery of European Tourism in Sight this Summer

European travel activity is set to build some momentum moving into the peak summer months due to the gradual easing of restrictions, the ramp-up in vaccinations, and the EU’s recent reopening to more third countries and fully vaccinated travellers from abroad.

Travel demand is expected to pick up considerably in the second half of this year, though international arrivals will still remain 49 percent below pre-pandemic levels of 2021. That is according to the latest quarterly ‘European Tourism Trends & Prospects’ report published today by the European Travel Commission (ETC).

The report notes that this summer season is essential for the sector as European travel demand remained weak in early 2021 – international tourist arrivals dropped 83 percent in the first quarter of the year compared to the same period in 2020. Meanwhile, downside risks linger following the surge in infections of the more transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant, which could force the return of travel restrictions.

Hopes for summer relief are high following the catastrophic start of the year in European tourism, with latest available data indicating that three in five destinations posted declines over 80 percent in international tourist arrivals. Austria has so far suffered the greatest percent decline in visitors. COVID-19 tight containment measures wiped out expectations of a winter tourism season, resulting in a 97 percent plunge in tourist arrivals to the Alpine country.

On the contrary, Croatia significantly outperformed other European destinations, reporting a 23 percent increase in visitor arrivals. The country led the way in waiving most COVID-19 travel entry restrictions for international travellers provided they had been vaccinated, could present a negative test, or had recovered from the virus.

Intra-European travel is expected to bolster travel demand in the second half of this year, with improving epidemiological situation across Europe enabling governments to ease restrictions and satisfy the longing among people to travel again. The latest forecast shows that intra-European travel will account for 83 percent of Europe’s inbound arrivals in 2021 compared to 77 percent in 2019.

As vaccinations gather pace across Europe with over 62 percent of the EU’s adult population having received at least one vaccine dose, European travel demand this summer is projected to catch up. ETC’s data shows that 54 percent of surveyed Europeans intend to book a trip once they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

The EU’s Digital COVID Certificate, active as of July 01, is also expected to support the release of pent-up travel demand and accumulated excess savings during the pandemic.

Long-haul travel demand is projected to recover more slowly, with barriers set to remain in place well beyond the end of the year. While domestic and intra-European travel is expected to return to 2019 volumes by 2022 and 2023 respectively, travel from long-haul source markets is not likely to recover until 2025.

The US market is expected to make the most significant contribution to Europe-wide travel demand growth in the coming years. Announcements to welcome vaccinated US travellers have already boosted Transatlantic travel to destinations such as Iceland, Croatia and Greece in May 2021. According to ForwardKeys’ data, issued tickets from the US to Croatia (+0,5 percent) and Iceland (+22,7 percent) have surpassed 2019 levels, while Greece is just 10,9 percent behind.

China is also expected to make a sizeable contribution to European travel growth over the next decade. Despite accounting for a smaller proportion of arrivals to the region, an expected average annual growth rate of 12 percent would see Chinese arrivals contribute 4,7 percent of overall arrivals growth to European destinations over the period 2019-2030. However, while domestic traffic in China continues to show remarkable recovery to pre-pandemic levels, Chinese international travel remains stagnant for now.