European travel could take longer to recover than you think

Nov 10, 2021

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Despite some optimistic signs that more people are travelling again, the struggles are not over yet for the travel industry. The latest projections from the European Travel Commission suggesting the continent won’t see a return to pre-COVID travel levels until 2024, at the earliest, according to Travel Weekly.

Travel volume is still far lower than it was before March 2020, when the surging pandemic essentially grounded European travel — as well as around the world. The report is a bit of a wet blanket for those seeing strong signs of a travel rebound, from airlines bolstering flight options to countries relaxing COVID travel protocols. Europe’s strong  vaccination rates are spurring more travel bookings. And England axing the travel red list and quarantine programme was seen as a strong indicator that UK travel is coming back strong.

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But despite those nuggets of good news, the road to recovery for the travel sector is going to take several years to come to an end. Specifically, international tourism still lags far behind pre-pandemic numbers.Visitors to Europe are down 77 percent, according to data analysing travel through the first half of 2021.

Long-haul travellers, who come to Europe for business and for leisure, have not yet returned in significant numbers either. Americans for example, have not yet begun to return to Europe. U.S. visitors as well as Chinese travellers to the continent are down 90 percent compared to 2019 levels for some destinations. The recent reopening of the transatlantic corridor is an obviously encouraging sign, but it is expected to be some time before U.S. visitors to Europe reach pre-pandemic numbers.

Related: How travellers reacted as US borders finally reopened

Incoming foreign tourism to Europe is forecast to be 60% below 2019 by the end of this year, due to a number of factors.

While the vaccine rollout continues, the rate of vaccination is slowing down across eastern Europe. That could potentially slow the recovery. Constantly evolving COVID restrictions and policies, as well as the threat of new outbreaks and strains are also concerns.

“From our latest European Tourism Trends & Prospects quarterly report it is clear to see the critical role vaccination programmes have already played in helping travel rebound,” ETC president Luís Araujo said. “However, vaccination efforts won’t be enough. As the winter months approach, it is imperative that Europe strives to further restore the freedom of movement by implementing more holistic and coherent approaches for travel within and outside the EU.”

Featured image by Zsolt Hlinka for Getty Images


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