European travel activity is set to build some momentum moving into the peak summer months due to the gradual easing of restrictions, the ramp-up in vaccinations, and EU’s reopening to more third countries, according to the latest quarterly European Tourism Trends & Prospects report recently published by the European Travel Commission (ETC).
Travel demand is expected to pick up considerably in the second half of 2021, though international arrivals will still remain 49 percent below pre-pandemic levels in 2021.
The report also notes that this summer season is essential for the sector as European travel demand remained weak in early 2021 – international tourist arrivals dropped 83 percent in the first quarter of the year compared to the same period in 2020.
Meanwhile, downside risks linger following the surge in infections of the more transmissible Covid-19 Delta variant, which could force the return of travel restrictions.
Europe’s tourism rebound in reach
According to the ETC report, intra-European travel is expected to bolster travel demand in the second half of 2021, with improving epidemiological situation across Europe enabling governments to ease restrictions and satisfy the longing among people to travel again.
The latest forecast shows that intra-European travel will account for 83 percent of Europe’s inbound arrivals in 2021 compared to 77 percent in 2019.
As vaccinations gather pace across Europe with over 62 percent of the EU’s adult population having received at least one vaccine dose, European travel demand this summer is projected to catch up. ETC’s data shows that 54 percent of surveyed Europeans intend to book a trip once they have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
The EU’s Digital Covid Certificate, active as of July 1, is also expected to support the release of pent-up travel demand and accumulated excess savings during the pandemic.
Bumpy road to long-haul travel recovery
Long-haul travel demand is projected to recover more slowly, with barriers set to remain in place well beyond the end of 2021. 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.
The US market is expected to make the most significant contribution to Europe-wide travel demand growth in the coming years. Announcements to welcome vaccinated American travellers have already boosted Transatlantic travel to destinations such as Iceland, Croatia and Greece in May 2021.
According to ForwardKeys’ data, issued tickets from the US to Croatia (+0.5 percent) and Iceland (+22.7 percent) have surpassed 2019 levels, while Greece is just 10.9 percent behind.
China is also expected to make a sizeable contribution to European travel growth over the next decade. Despite accounting for a smaller proportion of arrivals to the region, an expected average annual growth rate of 12 percent would see Chinese arrivals contribute 4.7 percent of overall arrivals growth to European destinations 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.