Travel demand is expected to pick up in the second half of 2021 but international arrivals will still remain 49% below pre-pandemic levels this year.
The projection came from the European Travel Commission which suggested travel activity is set to build momentum moving into the peak summer.
This due to a gradual easing of restrictions, the ramp-up in vaccinations, and the EU’s recent reopening to more third countries and fully vaccinated travellers from abroad.
The summer season is essential for the sector as European travel demand remained weak in early 2021 – international tourist arrivals dropped 83% in the first quarter of the year compared to the same period in 2020.
Hopes for summer relief are high following the “catastrophic” start of 2021 in European tourism, with latest available data indicating that three in five destinations posted declines over 80% in international tourist arrivals.
The EU’s digital Covid certificate, active from July 1, is also expected to support the release of pent-up travel demand and accumulated excess savings during the pandemic.
But “downside risks” linger following the surge in infections of the more transmissible Covid-19 delta variant, which could force the return of travel restrictions.
Long-haul demand is projected to recover more slowly than intra-European travel, with barriers set to remain in place well beyond the end of 2021.
While domestic and intra-European travel is expected to return to 2019 volumes by 2022 and 2023 respectively, travel from long-haul source markets is not likely to recover until 2025.
The US is expected to make the most significant contribution to Europe-wide travel demand growth in the coming years
ETC president Luís Araujo said: “In view of the rapidly advancing vaccination programmes, which reduce pressure on national health systems and protect our most vulnerable, Europe is now managing the Covid risks well both for locals and our long-awaited travellers. We therefore believe that safe travel is possible this summer.
“The reopening is also fuelled by the strong desire of people to travel again and secured by the readiness of our sector to provide safe and responsible travel experiences.
“As Europe is opening up, it is imperative that clear and coherent messages are communicated to prospective travellers.”