Zakynthos beach in Greece

Tourism in Europe will be slow until 2024

Although European travel demand heads towards a major recovery due to the high vaccination rates in Europe, volumes are still far from the pre-pandemic days. The recovery will happen in 2024. This is according to the latest ‘European Tourism Trends & Prospects’ quarterly report from the European Travel Commission (ETC).  It is likely pre-pandemic levels of European medical travel will also not be achieved until 2024.

It says that it is clear to see the critical role vaccination programs have already played in helping travel rebound.

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout was vital to the easing of entry requirements and boosting the appeal of travel during summer. However, the study points out that vaccination efforts will not be enough. As the winter approaches, it states that it is imperative that Europe strives to further restore the freedom of movement; by implementing more holistic and coherent approaches for travel within and outside the EU.

Although the report does not specifically mention medical travel, European medical travel trends tend to follow those of tourism.

60% below 2019 by the end of 2021

The ETC represents the national tourism organizations of Europe. Its 33-member tourism boards work together to build the value of tourism for all the diverse European destinations; through cooperation in sharing best practice, market intelligence and promotion.

Despite a strong summer rebound, international tourist arrivals to Europe will be 60% below 2019 by the end of 2021. European tourist arrivals were down 77% halfway through the year relative to 2019.

The pressure to get vaccines in Europe is intensifying. Austria started implementing a nationwide lockdown for the 2 million people who are unvaccinated; or who haven’t recently recovered from COVID-19. Germany is preparing new legislation to stop unvaccinated people from going out to work. Slovakia has banned unvaccinated people from wellness centers. Other European countries are planning their own measures.

Medical tourism destinations, hospitals and clinics may have to decide whether or not to differentiate between vaccinated and unvaccinated domestic and international medical tourists.

Covid-19 certificate

The creation of the EU Digital COVID-19 Certificate was fundamental to ensuring safe travel across the region. And it helped to simplify cross-border mobility. Intra-regional travel in Europe as a result is experiencing an uplift; and will account for 85% of European international arrivals in 2021, up from 77% in 2019.

The travel recovery observed has been different across destinations, with those that reopened their borders earlier to vaccinated travelers being the most favored. As the first nation to reopen to COVID-free tourists, Greece delivered the strongest rebound in overnight terms (-19% vs. 2019), although foreign arrivals were weak. The strongest pick up in arrivals from 2019 rates was in Croatia (-37%). In contrast, Czech Republic (-94%) recorded the sharpest decline with stringent COVID-19 measures extended throughout the year.

All reporting European destinations enjoyed higher levels of hotel occupancy this summer compared to 2020, based on data for July-September. Several destinations reported occupancy rates close to 70%, including Slovenia, the UK, Monaco and Turkey. European air passenger growth also gained momentum over the months of June (-69%), July (-57%) and August (-49%) compared to 2019, although global revenue in August remained half of pre-COVID-19 levels. The relative improvement throughout the summer months came mainly from domestic air travel demand. People seem to be not traveling overseas as much and when they do, they use long haul much less. ETC observed a notable absence of long-haul travelers, with US arrivals to Europe remaining 90% below their 2019 levels for one third of reporting destinations.

A long road ahead

Although European travel has made positive strides in 2021, there is still a long road ahead for international tourists in Europe.

Some large long-haul source markets, may potentially delay the recovery, presenting a lingering downside risk. The absence of Chinese travellers and medical tourists was sorely felt across Europe, with all reporting destinations posting declines over 90% compared to 2019.

International tourist arrivals to Europe are forecast to be 60% below 2019 by the end of 2021 with many other factors continuing to weigh on Europe’s tourism recovery. These include ever-changing COVID-19 restrictions and policies, renewed outbreaks and the confusion around the colour-coded EU travel system applied differently across European destinations.

The adoption of different systems for accepting non-EMA recognized vaccines may also continue to impact destinations heavily reliant on long-haul travel from China and Russia.

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