International arrivals to Europe marked a 30-year low last year, down by 70 percent compared to 2019 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the “European Tourism Trends & Prospects (Q4/2020)” report issued quarterly by the European Travel Commission (ETC).
ETC analysts predict a gradual return to 2019 international travel demand patterns by 2023, and with new traveler demands.
Looking ahead for 2021, ETC Executive Director Eduardo Santander said he expects a “slow restart of travel in the spring across Europe with a gradual return to ‘new normality’ through summer and autumn 2021”.
The ETC chief went on, however, to underline that return to travel will happen with new consumer habits requiring “strong adaptation and agile responses from the tourism sector”.
“Ensuring safe travel opportunities should become a priority for destinations as potential travelers are likely to travel more slowly, closer to home, and to lesser-known destinations,” said Santander.
Indicatively, in 2020 all reporting European destinations experienced record drops in the number of arrivals of up to 85 percent with one in three posting declines of up to 79 percent.
Among countries heavily dependent on tourism, Montenegro recorded an 85 percent decline, 84 percent in Cyprus, and 83 percent in Romania. In Spain international arrivals from its key source markets fell by 77 percent.
Austria meanwhile recorded one of the smallest arrival declines in 2020 at 53 percent thanks to a greater reliance on short-haul trips.
Hard hit has also been Europe’s hospitality sector marking a plunge of 54 percent in occupancy levels and many hotels still closed.
The pandemic is creating new conditions, the report found, forcing stakeholders to re-evaluate working practices. According to ETC analysts, the return of international business travel to pre-coronavirus levels is expected by 2024, with domestic business travel recovering faster by 2023.