European Travel Remains Resilient Despite Fresh Challenges

Domestic travel is expected to make a full recovery this year, while international arrivals will recover to 70% of 2019 levels.

Credit: Evert Elzinga/ANP/AFP/Getty Images
Passengers wait in line at Amsterdam Schiphol.

European tourism remains resilient despite risks on “multiple fronts,” according to the European Travel Commission’s (ETC) latest quarterly report.

The European Tourism Trends & Prospects study found that domestic travel is projected to make a complete recovery in 2022, while international tourist arrivals to Europe are forecast to be 30% below 2019 volumes. International travel is not expected to exceed 2019 levels until 2025.

Western Europe is anticipated to be the best performing region globally in terms of international arrivals this year, albeit 24% below 2019 levels. However, Eastern Europe’s recovery has been pushed back to 2025 due to the war in Ukraine, with arrivals this year now forecast to be 43% lower compared to 2019.

“The sector is steadily recovering from COVID-19 and there is cause for optimism,” ETC president Luís Araújo said. “Nevertheless, European tourism will have to maintain this fortitude throughout the year as Europe continues to deal with the significant fallout from the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian conflict.

“ETC calls on EU institutions to continue to provide sufficient and timely financial aid and other support to the sector, especially to destinations heavily reliant on tourism from Russia and Ukraine.”

Despite remaining in negative territory, year-to-date data for Q1 2022 showed that across all reporting destinations, arrivals are estimated to be 43% lower on a weighted basis relative to 2019. This represents an improvement over the 60% decline observed in the previous quarter.

The fastest rebounds based on data to February were reported by Serbia (-11%) and Turkey (-12%). Other destinations recovering at a faster pace based on data to February-March 2022 are Bulgaria (-18%), Austria (-33%), Spain and Monaco (both -34%), and Croatia (-37%).

The ETC report said the US remains among the best performers of all long-haul source markets. Annual average growth from the US to Europe is expected to be 33.6% in the five-year period to 2026, with the fastest increase observed in Northern Europe (+41.5%).

However, there are no signs of Chinese tourist arrivals returning to pre-pandemic levels. More than 50% of European reporting destinations saw declines of over 90% in Chinese tourist arrivals compared to 2019.

The ETC report also found that the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could mostly hurt destinations such as Cyprus, Montenegro, Latvia, Finland, Estonia and Lithuania, where Russians made up at least 10% of total inbound travel in 2019.

The group added that the war could affect travel sentiment to Europe from overseas markets. A recent survey conducted by MMGY Travel Intelligence indicated that 62% of US travelers planning to visit Europe stated concerns about the war. Nevertheless, the US is expected to remain among the top performers in 2022 compared to other long-haul source markets and will be one of the key drivers of the European travel sector’s recovery.

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