Greece, Portugal, Spain mean it when they say tourism reopening

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European tourism sector continues to defy increased global risks

A series of announcements by governments of southern European countries indicated, that they are eager to welcome tourists for the summer season. Such announcements had triggered an almost immediate jump in international flight bookings for Greece, Portugal and Spain in July and August.

For most of April and May, the aviation market has been in a state of suspended animation with almost nobody booking anything However, in the fourth week of May, things started to change. On 20th May, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Greece’s Prime Minister told the Greek people that the country would open its doors to foreign tourists from 1st July. Two days later, Portugal’s Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva announced that its border would reopen on 15th June; and the following day, Spain followed suit. Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s Prime Minister said that the country would reopen for foreign tourism from July.

Markets reacted immediately. From 20th May – 3rd June, the number of international flight tickets issued for Greece, increased from effectively zero to 35% of what they were during the same period in 2019. In the 12 days from 22nd May, – 3rd June, the number of international flight tickets issued for Portugal, increased from effectively zero to 35% of what they were during the same period in 2019 and in the 11 days from 23rd May – 3rd June, the uplift in Spain reached 30%.

A closer analysis by type of traveler reveals that there has been a very similar pattern of recovery in all destinations. Leisure travelers account for the bulk of new tickets, but recovery has been stronger amongst ex-pats and people visiting friends and relatives. In that niche, air tickets to Greece, Portugal, and Spain, reached 89%, 87%, and 54% of 2019 levels respectively.

When governments tell people they are again allowed to travel, bookings immediately start to come back. However, given that there should be strong pent up demand for holidays in southern Europe in July and August, the relatively low booking levels, compared to 2019, suggest that many people are still reluctant to fly. With bookings for Greece, Portugal, and Spain respectively 49.8%, 52% and 53.5% behind where they were at the beginning of June 2019, it will be challenging for any of those countries to rescue their summer holiday season.

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