According to the European Travel Commission, reunions with family and friends will be one of the biggest motivating forces for people booking short-hop trips this summer. Jenny Southan reports

With European travel expected to be 54 per cent lower in 2020 compared with 2019, the European Travel Commission (ETC) says the likelihood of a “stable and quick recovery is expected to be greater for destinations that rely more heavily on domestic and short-haul travellers”.

Currently in the midst of a surge in cancellations, a decline in bookings and rising unemployment, the coronavirus has had a crushing impact on the global travel industry.

However, with travel bans being lifted, consumer activity is starting to pick up, with increased flight bookings for destinations such as Greece, Portugal and Spain for July and August.

Apparently, leisure visitors account for the bulk of new tickets purchased, but recovery has been stronger among travellers wanting to visit friends and relatives.

According to the ETC’s latest quarterly report “European Tourism: Trends & Prospects”, the pace of recovery by destination will vary and will depend on the extent to which they rely on international source markets and the revival of consumer confidence.

European tourism growth is expected to remain below 2019 levels until 2023.

During the first four months of the year, Europe saw a 44 per cent decline in international tourist arrivals compared to the same period in 2019.

At the same time, there was a 96.9 per cent drop in bookings to Europe across all sub-regions between January and May 2020 compared to the same period last year.

Data reported by destinations to the months of April/May reflect the level of the disruption caused by the pandemic.

Croatia (down 86 per cent in terms of tourist arrivals) and Cyprus (down 78 per cent) saw the biggest declines, reflecting the sizeable losses of key source markets, such as Italy and the UK, which were heavily impacted by the pandemic.

The ETC says: “The recovery of travel to all destinations worldwide will depend on economic factors, the speed with which travel restrictions are lifted, the health of the aviation industry, and the risk aversion of potential travellers.

“The likelihood of a stable and quick recovery of travel demand is likely to be greater for destinations that rely more heavily on domestic and short-haul travellers. Lower cost of travel, remaining international travel restrictions, uncertainty around transport availability as well as a heightened risk aversion is likely to increase consumer preference for travelling closer to home.”

The average share of domestic travellers is at 44.5 per cent within European countries, while short-haul arrivals amount for 77 per cent of all travellers.

Combining both arrivals from within the country and reliance on short-haul travel, Germany, Norway and Romania are the most resilient and likely to be quicker and more stable in recovery.

On the contrary, Iceland, Montenegro and Croatia have the lowest score with greater risk in recovery. These destinations have small domestic tourism markets and a much higher reliance on international demand, including a sizable proportion of travel from markets outside Europe which will be more likely to be subject to restrictions for longer, says the ETC.

In terms of new trends emerging from the pandemic, the ETC says: “A sector traditionally characterised by human interactions will now have to provide the same valuable intangible aspects through more touchless methods in a more digitalised world. Sustainability will be key in building a resilient and more competitive sector through the implementation of a model that is economically, socially, and environmentally viable in the long-term.”

Eduardo Santander, executive director of the ETC, says: “We have been talking for so long about sustainable growth, climate change, digitalisation and innovation, this is an opportunity to press the reset button, challenge pre-established models and finally take all these matters seriously. We must use the recovery from this terrible situation to accelerate the transformation and shift to the tourism of tomorrow.”

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