European Tourism Booms Despite Pandemic Challenges

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Key Takeaways

  • Europe’s popular tourist destinations are experiencing record-breaking numbers, nearly reaching pre-pandemic levels.
  • American travelers are driving this surge, contributing to a tourism boom known as “revenge travel.”
  • Overcrowding and long wait times at major attractions like the Acropolis in Athens and St. Mark’s Square in Venice are becoming prevalent.
  • Concerns arise regarding sustainability and the rush for immediate financial recovery, prompting actions like regulating short-term rentals in cities like Florence.

Despite facing multiple challenges, such as overcrowding, labor unrest, and high costs, Europe’s most popular destinations are attracting millions of tourists this summer, showing no signs of slowing down.

A recent report by the Associated Press highlights the phenomenon of packed crowds across Europe as travelers seek to make up for lost time after the pandemic.

Tourist Numbers Approach Pre-Pandemic Levels

According to the AP, 2023 is expected to surpass the record tourist numbers of 2019, with 35.1 million tourists and £29.5 billion spent in Europe.

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This surge is mainly driven by American travelers, eager to spend their accumulated pandemic savings on “revenge travel,” as confirmed by a recent Allianz study on American travel intentions for this year.

Some of Europe’s most sought-after destinations, such as Barcelona, Rome, Athens, Venice, and Santorini, are witnessing unprecedented tourist influx.

Prominent tourist sites, including the Acropolis in Athens, are experiencing longer waiting times – up to two hours or more. The scenario is replicated in taxi queues at Rome’s main railway station.

The influx of tourists in St. Mark’s Square in Venice is similarly overwhelming.

Even the labor protests in Paris, elevated airfare, and dense crowds have not dampened the enthusiasm for travel. This scenario comes as a relief to hotels and restaurants struggling with the financial strains of the pandemic.

From data published in Eurostat, the table below shows the top 10 EU destinations for international tourists in 2021, based on the number of nights spent in tourist accommodation.

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CountryNights spent (million)Share of EU total (%)
Spain11419
France8314
Italy7913
Germany498
Greece376
Croatia285
Portugal254
Austria244
Poland214
Netherlands183

The Repercussions of over-tourism

However, the unchecked influx of tourists also reveals a harsh reality. Previous commitments to fostering responsible, sustainable, and eco-friendly travel may have needed to be remembered in the rush to recover from the pandemic.

Alessandra Priante, the regional director for Europe at the U.N. World Tourism Organization (WTO), expressed her concerns to the Associated Press. She feels the focus has shifted towards immediate financial recovery, risking long-term sustainability. The prevalent prices, she believes, are unsustainable.

Some destinations are employing their methods to regulate tourist flow. For example, Florence’s mayor has halted new short-term apartment rentals, particularly in the historical city center.

The Eurostat report noted that it’s worth mentioning that despite the escalating crowds, WTO data reveals that travel to and within Europe still lags 10 percent behind 2019 levels.

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The shortfall could be attributed to factors such as Chinese tourists not yet fully returning and the reluctance of travelers to visit countries near war-torn Ukraine.

What We Think

The resurgence of tourism in Europe to pre-pandemic levels reflects a significant rebound driven by eager travelers, notably from the U.S.

However, the rush for recovery raises concerns about sustainability and responsible tourism practices. Balancing economic revival with long-term environmental and cultural preservation remains critical.

Destinations need thoughtful strategies to manage overwhelming crowds while ensuring a sustainable tourism model for the future. Achieving this delicate balance will be vital for Europe’s tourism industry to thrive in the post-pandemic era.

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