Tourism after Covid-19

How has the pandemic changed tourism in Europe? Our analysis of Eurostat’s data collected from bookings on travel and hotel platforms reveals that tourism reached pre-pandemic levels already in 2022 all over Europe. However, some cities have not yet recovered. Why is that, and what new challenges are cities facing after the pandemic?

The number of overnight stays in the European Union increased by 7 percent in 2022 compared to 2019. Sweden, France, and Belgium particularly benefited from the post-pandemic travel boom, with tourists booking 23 to 33 percent more overnight stays than in 2019.

At first glance, tourism has recovered — but not in the urban areas. Exceptions include Paris, France, and Nicosia, Cyprus, which had as many overnight stays in 2022 as in 2019. Dublin and Amsterdam, on the other hand, experienced the biggest declines, with 60 percent fewer overnight stays. Central and Eastern European countries also saw sharp drops, partly due to the Ukraine war and the absence of Russian tourists. Additionally, tourists from Asia remain far below 2019 levels.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit tourism hard. In 2020, the number of tourist overnight stays in the EU plummeted by nearly 50 percent. Islands such as Malta, Cyprus, and Iceland suffered the most, with around 70 percent fewer overnight stays than in pre-pandemic times. Hungary, Greece, Czechia, and Italy also saw significant declines, ranging from 60 to 65 percent. In Germany and Switzerland, the decline was less severe, at around 20 percent.

With the end of the pandemic in 2022, most vacationers flocked to coastal regions. The Croatian Adriatic (Jadranska Hrvatska) saw almost 20 million overnight stays, followed by Provence in France, with its famous Côte d’Azur, recording 11 million overnight stays. In these areas, tourists often outnumber locals, a trend also seen in the Alps.

Between July and September 2022, tourist numbers per inhabitant were particularly high not only in Croatia but also on the Greek islands. The Ionian Islands saw more than 16,000 overnight stays per 1,000 inhabitants, and the southern Aegean islands around Rhodes saw 11,500. Popular coastal regions in Spain, France, Italy, and Greece recorded figures between 1,000 and 2,000.

Despite high overnight stays, levels in many main tourist regions have not yet returned to 2019 levels. The Adriatic Sea region in Croatia was still 10 percent lower than in 2019, and Catalonia in Spain was 37 percent lower.

COVID-19 led to an increase in domestic vacations, with overnight stays rising sharply. For example, in Switzerland, domestic overnight stays rose by 80 percent, and in the Netherlands, by 50 percent. By 2022, figures in many countries had returned to or slightly exceeded 2019 levels. In France and Germany, economic losses were mitigated by domestic tourism. The situation was different in countries dependent on foreign tourists, such as Italy, Spain, and Croatia.

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