European Travel Will Not Fully Recover Until 2024

Despite a major recovery this summer, European travel volumes are still far from the pre-pandemic days, which are not expected to be surpassed until 2024. The most recent edition (Q3/2021) of the ‘European Tourism Trends & Prospects’ quarterly report from the European Travel Commission (ETC) continues to monitor the COVID-19 impact on the sector, examining how travel activity is rebounding amid the current wave of infections and ongoing vaccination programmes. Read on for analysis of demand, a look at recovery in flights and accommodation, how long-haul travel is pricing trends & the road ahead.

Increased demand for European travel

Europe currently has the highest vaccination rate in the world, which is expected to enable the release of significant pent-up demand. In fact, European destinations already enjoyed a stronger than expected summer season owing to successful vaccination programmes. The creation of the EU Digital COVID-19 Certificate was fundamental to ensuring safe travel across the region and helped to simplify cross-border mobility. Intra-regional travel as a result experienced an uplift and is set to 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 travellers being the most favoured. 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 observed in Croatia (-37%), which was able to extend its outstanding performance into its off-season, welcoming 1.9 million tourist arrivals in September. 

Signs of recovery in accommodation and aviation sectors

All reporting European destinations enjoyed higher levels of hotel occupancy this summer compared to 2020 (+10,5%) for July-September. European hotels also managed to grow ADR (+6.5%), despite a subdued demand backdrop.

Transparent’s data shows that short-term rental reservations for Europe have recovered to -17% of 2019 levels throughout 2021, regionally speaking, only behind North America. Italy and Great Britain are currently the worst performing of Europe’s top short-term rental supply nations in year-on-year reservations, with France looking strongest. The vacation rental data paints a more positive picture as demand swings towards rental type accommodations.

European air passenger growth also gained momentum over the summer months of June (-69%), July (-57%) and August (-49%) compared to 2019, although global revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs) in August remained half of pre-COVID-19 levels. The relative improvement throughout the summer was mainly driven by domestic air travel demand. The number of flights in Europe were down around 32% in August 2021 compared to August 2019, but marking a significant improvement in performance from earlier in the year.

Price rises are likely for future holidays

Average spending per international trip has fallen 17% over the past two decades. However, borrowing and the increased share of short-haul leisure will eat into profits and leave airlines with little choice but to raise prices. 

Moreover, recent weeks have seen steep increases in the price of jet fuel. IATA / S&P’s jet fuel monitor indicates that jet fuel prices in Europe as of 26th November were 55,9% higher than one year ago (after having peaked in October). 

At the same time, some price discounting will be likely in the short-term in an effort to regain market share and stimulate demand, while additional capacity is likely to come from all airlines in the coming months ahead of next summer. 

Long-haul European travel expected to recover at a slower pace

ETC also observed a notable absence of long-haul travellers, with US arrivals to Europe remaining 90% below their 2019 levels for one third of reporting destinations. The absence of Chinese holidaymakers was also sorely felt across Europe, with all reporting destinations posting declines over 90% compared to 2019. 

The fragmented rules on travel from outside the EU and the adoption of different systems for accepting non-EMA recognised vaccines may continue to impact destinations heavily reliant on long-haul travel. ETC therefore has been calling for all EU Member States to take an individual traveller-based approach to travel restrictions and to recognise WHO-approved vaccines to enable pent-up demand from long-haul markets to be realised.

A long road ahead for European travel recovery

Although European travel has made positive strides in 2021, there is still a long road ahead. 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, the emergence of new variants and the confusion around the colour-coded EU travel system applied differently across European destinations. A slower vaccine rollout in Eastern Europe, and in some large long-haul source markets, may also delay the recovery, presenting a lingering downside risk.

More information about the European Travel Commission 

The European Travel Commission (ETC) represents the national tourism organisations of Europe. Established in 1948, ETC’s mission is to strengthen the sustainable development of Europe as a tourist destination and to promote Europe in third markets. 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. For more information, visit and follow @ETC_Corporate.

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