Despite the fact that the most recent quarterly report from the European Travel Commission (ETC) is showing negative numbers, this is still being look at as some form of recovery. How is this possible?
In 2022, international tourist arrivals to Europe are forecast to be 30% below 2019 volumes, supported by domestic and short-haul travel. Domestic travel is projected to recover fully in 2022, while international travel is not expected to exceed 2019 levels until 2025.
How does this demonstrate resilience for European tourism?
In a nutshell, it is anticipated that European tourism will continue recovering in 2022, albeit at a slower pace than previously hoped. The ETC report monitors the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as current economic and geopolitical headwinds, and 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 is actually 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%).
Luís Araújo, ETC’s President, Luis Araujo, stated: “Over the course of the pandemic, the European tourism sector has become adept at dealing with uncertainties and challenges. The sector is steadily recovering from COVID-19 and there is cause for optimism. 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.”
Effects of COVID-19 are lessening
International travellers are showing they are more willing to travel and visit Europe. Many countries, such as Spain, France, and Italy, have removed the requirement for COVID testing prior to travel, conditional on vaccination status. As a result of these actions, Western Europe is forecast to be the best performing region globally this year, albeit 24% below 2019 levels.
The best performer is the United States for all long-haul source markets. Annual average growth from the US to Europe is expected to be 33.6% in the 5-year period 2021-2026, with the fastest increase observed in Northern Europe (+41.5%). Overall, it remains the case that over 2022 transatlantic travel between the US and Europe will be one of the key drivers of the European travel sector’s recovery.
In the case of China, typically the biggest travel spenders on the planet, there have been no immediate signs of Chinese tourist arrivals returning to pre-pandemic levels as the country is enduring a severe outbreak of the Omicron variant in Shanghai and other big cities. Authorities have reimposed strict lockdowns and mandatory testing to suppress the spread of the virus, and over 50% of reporting destinations saw declines of over 90% in Chinese tourist arrivals compared to 2019.
Impact of the Ukraine Invasion by Russia
As expected, the invasion by Russia in Ukraine is predicted to bring reduced outbound travel for both countries, and in addition, nearby countries will also suffer from the negative effects of this hostile conflict. Because of this, Eastern Europe’s recovery has been pushed back to 2025, with arrivals now forecast to be 43% lower in 2022 compared to 2019.
It is anticipated that Cyprus, Montenegro, Latvia, Finland, Estonia, and Lithuania, will be the most impacted by the invasion, as this is where Russians made up at least 10% of total inbound travel in 2019. Also, Russian tourists are typically high spenders when they travel, so their spending being missing from the landscape will have a greater impact on tourism expenditure. In 2019, Russian spending contributed to 34% of total expenditure in Montenegro, 25% in Cyprus and 16% in Latvia.
European-Asian air connectivity is being impacted due to the closure of airspace for Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus to most western European carriers. On top of travel woes, the Russia-Ukraine conflict is affecting the economy with sanctions on Russia causing jet fuel costs to rise which will naturally in turn affect airfares.
In a recent survey conducted by MMGY Travel Intelligence, 62% of US travelers planning to visit Europe stated concerns about the war in Ukraine spreading to nearby countries as a factor impacting plans. This concern is twice as high as concerns over COVID-19.