As Europe works to accelerate vaccination programmes over the coming months and control the spread of COVID-19, the expected easing of restrictions provides some hope for travel in summer 2021. Published today, the European Travel Commission’s (ETC) quarterly report ‘European Tourism Trends & Prospects’ outlines that despite vaccine hurdles in recent months, the inoculation programmes are vital in enabling the restart of travel. 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.
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. While vaccination programmes 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.
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 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. 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.
The last twelve months have been particularly bleak for the aviation industry with European air traffic data for March 2021 showing a 68.9% drop when compared to March 2019. However, when compared to a 70.9% decline in February, this suggests that hope is on the horizon. As for the hospitality industry, occupancy rates in European hotels remain consistently lower than in other major global regions. More prohibitive travel restrictions across the region have meant its recovery has so far lagged that of other key markets including the US and China.