While Europe works to accelerate vaccination programs over the coming months, as well as controlling the spread of COVID-19, the expected easing of restrictions provides some hope for travel in summer 2021.
That’s one of the messages in the European Travel Commission’s (ETC) quarterly report ‘European Tourism Trends & Prospects.’
The report outlines that despite vaccine hurdles in recent months, the inoculation programs are vital to enabling the restart of travel.
And it states that this cause for optimism is backed-up by the significant amount of pent-up demand which has accumulated following months of travel restrictions, with ETC’s data showing that 56% of Europeans are willing to travel by the end of August.
The ETC report notes that a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, coupled with prohibitive quarantine and testing requirements dampened traveller sentiment in 2020 and into 2021, with available data indicating an 85% plunge in international tourist arrivals to Europe in January 2021.
And it says that while vaccination programs provide a boost, the outlook remains mixed, with the latest forecasts estimating that international arrivals to Europe will remain 46% below 2019 levels in 2021, with a full recovery not expected until 2024.
On the other hand, the EU’s Digital Green Certificate — planned to be introduced before summer — is expected to support the reopening of European travel and tourism in 2021.
The Certificate is envisaged as a tool to facilitate free and safe movements of citizens in the EU and further afield, and it is also planned to facilitate the exchange of data to prove that a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19; holds a negative test; or has recovered from COVID-19.
Eduardo Santander, executive director of ETC, said that: “Following a gloomy 12 months, we finally have reasons to be more optimistic about summer 2021. The rollout of vaccination programs in Europe, although hampered by some hurdles, has proven its effectiveness in stopping COVID-19 infection rates. Meanwhile, the proposed EU Digital Green Certificate opens the door for destinations across Europe to welcome back European and international travellers in the coming season, much earlier than we thought.”
And, Santander added: “What’s needed now to revive consumer confidence is clarity of communications regarding the applicable travel rules and the speedy rollout of EU Certificate.”
As for how things are going in Europe so far this year, the ETC reports that European destinations continued to see major declines in tourist arrivals in Q1 2021, with 1 in 2 plummeting over 90% based on latest available data.
The ETC indicated that the largest falls were registered in Austria (-99%), where strict entry rules were in place, and Iceland (-97%), where fully vaccinated visitors are now exempt from testing and quarantine obligations on arrival.
As well, a number of Central/Eastern European destinations together with Cyprus, Slovenia and Finland, were amongst the hardest hit, all posting decreases above 93%. Monaco (-41%) was the only destination that did not exceed a 50% decline.
On the other hand, the ETC notes that given that the general population is as keen as ever to enjoy some much-needed rest and recovery, pent-up travel demand supported by enforced savings will likely mean that many will turn to their domestic travel offering.
Last summer resulted in a high degree of domestic substitution due to prohibitive travel guidelines: as a share of total travel within European destinations, domestic travel jumped from 55% in 2019 to 69% in 2020.
While ETC predicts that all sub-regions can expect to see some uplift in domestic tourism this year as well, it is clear that this would be insufficient to offset any corresponding declines in inbound travel.
In case of continuous lockdowns and severe restrictions, the impact would be most stark in Southern and Mediterranean Europe, since these destinations tend to be more reliant on international travellers.
In comparison, Central and Eastern European destinations can better mobilize domestic demand when foreign travel is taken off the table.
However, only a handful of European destinations with the largest domestic markets (such as Romania, Germany, Poland, Finland and Sweden) could feasibly see domestic demand fully offset declines in inbound travel.
Go to https://etc-corporate.org/reports/european-tourism-2021-trends-prospects-q1-2021/ for the full report.