European travel trends


Europeans travelled abroad in good numbers this year and will keep travelling in 2016 but could favour safer destinations amid continuing conflicts and attacks around the world. However, it is too early to assess the potential impact of the current refugee crisis and the high increase in terror attacks on outbound travel next year. These were some of the key results of the 23rd World Travel Monitor® Forum in Pisa.

The European economy has improved this year with expected GDP growth of 1.5% for the Eurozone as a whole compared to 0.9% in 2014, according to figures from the ifo Institute for Economic Research in Munich. A slightly stronger growth of 1.6% is being forecasted for 2016. This continued recovery is mostly driven by the German economy which is predicted to grow 1.8% next year, with private consumption increasing 2.6% this year and 2.9% in 2016. In addition, Spain is continuing to recover and Italy has moved out of recession. Outside the Eurozone the UK is growing well (+2.5% this year; +2.4% in 2016).

Against this positive background, the number of outbound trips made by Europeans increased by about 4.5% over the first eight months of this year, according to preliminary World Travel Monitor® results from IPK International. This once again represented good growth following a rise of 3% in 2014 and similar single-digit growth rates in the last few years. However, demand for different destinations fluctuated strongly this year, with some countries in southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East suffering in particular. IPK International president Rolf Freitag told the forum: “Many destinations have faced problems this year, keeping travelers away, sometime in droves. European tourists are choosing safer destinations, and in some cases they are even shifting from international trips to domestic holidays.”

Overall1, European outbound travel grew by about 8.5% from 2007 to 2014, reaching a total of 444 million outbound trips last year. During this period, Western Europe’s share fell back slightly to just over 40%, Northern Europe’s share weakened slightly to under 25% while Eastern Europe grew to over 20% of the total European outbound market. About 85% of international trips made by Europeans are to destinations within Europe, according to World Travel Monitor® figures.

Like elsewhere around the world, Europeans are going on more city trips and booking more up-market hotels. As a result, the average length of a trip dropped to about 8 nights in 2014 from around 9.5 nights in 2007. Spending is slightly higher at around 105 euros per person per night but slightly lower per trip at 825 euros per person due to the shorter average length of the trip, according to World Travel Monitor® figures. Online bookings reached about 65% last year while travel agency bookings dropped to about one fifth.

There has been stronger demand for destinations within Europe this year. The number of international arrivals in Europe grew by 5% between January and August 2015 and ahead of the expected 3–4% growth for this year, according to UNWTO figures. Michel Julian, Technical Coordinator of the UNWTO’s Tourism Market Trends Programme, told forum participants:

“Europe is having a year of bumper growth that is consolidating solid results of previous years. A weaker euro is benefiting inbound travel.” A very busy summer season has contributed to the remarkable results of Europe. By subregion, Central and Eastern Europe (+7%) rebounded from

last year’s decline. Northern Europe (+6%), Southern Mediterranean Europe (+5%) and Western Europe (+4%) all recorded sound results for subregions with many mature destinations. Europe saw positive growth in international tourist arrivals over the first eight months of 2015, driven mostly by intra-regional travel from major source markets such as the UK and Germany, according to European Travel Commission (ETC) figures. In terms of long-haul inbound travel, ETC

expects a strong 30% rise in Chinese arrivals and a good 11% increase from the USA but an 18% fall from Russia for 2015 as a whole.

Looking ahead, Europe can generally expect an increase in international visitors from major long-haul source markets this year, according to a recent survey by the ETC. Consumers in China, the USA and Japan are all more positively inclined towards travel to Europe, while travel sentiment

in Brazil is slightly lower than at the beginning of the year. Moreover, the intention to travel to Europe among Russian citizens has fallen significantly for the remainder of the year (September-December 2015). Stefanie Gallob, ETC’s head of research, told the forum that in the USA the strong dollar is motivating middle- and higher-income travellers to consider Europe as a travel destination. In China, positive travel sentiment is mostly driven by younger and mid-aged people. In contrast, Russian travel intentions for Europe have fallen sharply due to a mix of factors, supporting notions of a predicted fall of 18% in Russian arrivals to Europe this year.

Looking ahead to next year, IPK currently predicts a 2.8% rise in European outbound travel, based on its European Travel Confidence Index which measures travel intentions for the next year. According to the index, 70% of Europeans are looking ahead positively and want to travel at least as much in 2016 as this year. Confidence is highest in the UK and Spain (both +6%), Poland (+4%) and Germany (+3%), indicating good growth ahead for those source markets next year. In contrast, French consumers are only slightly more optimistic about their travel intentions for 2016, while confidence is lower in Russia and Italy (both -2%).

In addition, tourism experts discussed intensively at the Pisa forum whether the current flood of refugees would impact on European travel demand, and what it might mean for European destinations. “The refugee crisis hasn’t yet started to influence travel behaviour and we will still

have to wait and see,” said Rolf Freitag, IPK International president. However, one example could serve as a warning for the travel industry. “Munich’s world-famous Oktoberfest had 400,000 fewer visitors this year and tourism receipts were about 60 million Euros lower because the

event coincided with the peak of refugee arrivals in the city,” he pointed out. According to Munich city council, the total number of visitors dropped to 5.9 million this year from 6.3 million in 2014.


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