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Recovery of European tourism in sight this summer

From Visit Flanders

The recovery of the European tourism sector is in sight this summer, according to analysis from the European Travel Commission (ETC).

The ETC – which represents the national tourism organisations of Europe – cites the gradual easing of coronavirus restrictions, increases in vaccination rates, and the EU’s recent reopening to more fully vaccinated travellers from abroad as factors in a predicted recovery.

“Improvements in vaccination rates and the introduction of the EU Digital COVID Certificate provide hope for tourism rebound in Europe for the summer months,” said the ETC in a press release.

They expect Intra-European trips to account for 80% of Europe’s 2021 travel, though note that risks remain in regards to uncertainty surrounding new variants of Covid-19 whose surge could disrupt reopening plans.

Even though travel demand is expected to pick up considerably in the second half of the year, international arrivals remain at nearly half (49%) their pre-pandemic levels in 2021.

The figures come from the latest ‘European Tourism Trends & Prospects’ report published last week by the ETC.

The report says that the summer season is essential for the tourism sector, which has been battered ever since the Covid-19 pandemic began and travel restrictions were imposed worldwide.

“The gradual easing of restrictions, the ramp-up in vaccinations in Europe, and the reopening of the EU to fully vaccinated travellers from third countries provide some momentum ahead of the peak summer months,” reads the report.

“Down-side risks remain following the surge in infections of the new and more transmissible Covid-19 Delta variant, which could force the return of travel restrictions.”

Mass vaccinations are a primary source for optimism in the face of remaining hurdles to travel.

According to the report, more than half (54%) of surveyed Europeans intend to book a trip once they’ve been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

“This sentiment is in line with a recent EU survey which shows that 75% of respondents believe that Covid-19 vaccines are the only way to end the pandemic, and 49% agree that getting a vaccine is very important to allow them to resume travel,” the report says, while noting that uneven vaccination rates will lead to an uneven recovery across Europe.

“In view of the rapidly advancing vaccination programmes, which reduce pressure on national health systems and protect our most vulnerable, Europe is now managing the COVID risks well both for locals and our long-awaited travellers,” said Luís Araújo, President of the ETC.

“We therefore believe that safe travel is possible this summer. The reopening is also fuelled by the strong desire of people to travel again and secured by the readiness of our sector to provide safe and responsible travel experiences. As Europe is opening up, it is imperative that clear and coherent messages are communicated to prospective travellers.”

The start of 2021 was described as “catastrophic” for European tourism, with three out of five destinations reporting declines of over 80% when it comes to international tourist arrivals.

Austria has so far experienced the worst of these declines in visitors: the country saw a 97% fall in tourist arrivals.

Croatia performed higher than other European destinations with a 23% increase in visitor arrivals, largely due to the fact that they waived most coronavirus travel restrictions (such as mandatory quarantines) for international visitors who were vaccinated, could present a negative Covid-19 test, or prove they had recovered from the virus.

The EU’s Digital COVID Certificate, which went into effect on 1 July, is expected to support the release of pent-up travel demand, according to the ETC.

“Intra-European travel is expected to bolster travel demand in the second half of 2021, with the improving epidemiological situation across Europe enabling governments to ease restrictions and satisfy the longing among people to travel again,” they said in a statement.

“As vaccinations gather pace across Europe, with over 62% of the EU’s adult population having received at least one vaccine dose, European travel demand this summer is projected to catch up.”

Long-haul travel, on the other hand, is expected to recover more slowly. Barriers to such trips are expected to remain in place well beyond the end of the year, according to the ETC.

“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,” said the commission.

The US market is expected to make the most significant contribution to Europe-wide travel demand growth, and the welcoming of vaccinated American travellers has already boosted travel to destinations like Iceland (+22.7%), Croatia (+0.5%) and Greece (10.9%) in May of this year, surpassing their 2019 levels.

China is another contender when it comes to contributing to European travel growth over the next decade: despite constituting a smaller proportion of arrivals to Europe, an expected average annual growth rate of 12% would eventually see Chinese arrivals making up 4.7% of overall growth over the period 2019-30.

“However, while domestic traffic in China continues to show remarkable recovery to pre-pandemic levels, Chinese international travel remains stagnant for now,” said the ETC.