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Eduardo Santander, Executive Director, European Travel Commission

European Tourism: Challenges Are in the Sky

By  Brussels, — Last updated on 31 March 2020

Europe is the most visited region in the world, attracting more than half of all global travellers. The importance of the tourism sector for European economic and social development cannot be overstated. Here’s a quick look at the key figures:

  • Tourism generates (directly and indirectly) 10.1% of total EU-28 GDP
  • Visitor exports add € 441 billion to the European economy
  • 565 million international arrivals registered last year to the EU-28 countries
  • Tourism supports 27.3 million jobs in the EU
  • Tourism stimulates economic growth by generating income, employment and investment in Europe. On top of this, it enables us to sustain our cultural heritage and provides revenue to fund facilities and infrastructure.

Tourism is not just a business. In effect, the visitor economy also brings a plethora of social benefits to Europe, often providing the first job for youngsters, helping to fight prejudice, connecting people and their cultures. Travellers contribute to increased demand for local agricultural products, handicrafts and gastronomy.

Tourism and aviation are deeply interconnected. One cannot imagine the scale of modern tourism without air transportation and vice versa. Flying is also the way that most international tourists arrive into Europe. These numbers speak for themselves:

  • Aviation accounts for 58% of all global travel and tourism flows
  • 53% of international travellers arrive to Europe by plane
  • 56% of Europeans prefer taking a flight for their outbound trips
  • Aeroplane is the most common mode of transport for intra-EU tourism flows (49%)

Meanwhile, the global tourism industry continues to grow ahead of the forecasts. Last year international tourist arrivals reached the 1.4 billion mark, two years ahead of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) predictions. This remarkable growth of the sector meets capacity challenges both on the ground and in the sky. It’s time for all players involved to face a new reality!

Our latest quarterly report on tourism trends shows that European airline growth in RPK (6.9%) outperformed other regions and overall global air passenger growth based on year-to-date data. But storm clouds are gathering, given increased demand and constrained air-traffic control capacity.

Eurocontrol estimates the cost of delays and cancellations to the EU economy in 2018 to be €17.6 billion. Over half (60.4%) of the delays were related to capacity and staffing. Flight delays or cancellations have a particularly damaging impact on tourism and travel, affecting the whole value chain and putting small and medium businesses at risk. Travel disruptions lead to lost hotel reservations, missed connections and cancelled tours.

Aside from the economic perspective, flight delays have a damaging effect on the EU’s travel attractiveness. Tourism is a customer-oriented sector which heavily relies on traveller’s satisfaction. The journey to Europe starts and ends on the plane. No one would argue that a night spent in the airport is far from a joyful memory from your holiday.

Therefore, the European Travel Commission supports the airlines’ efforts to reach the Seamless European Sky. The success of the European tourism sector directly depends on the smooth functioning of EU airspace. We need to meet the capacity requirements to maintain Europe’s number 1 position as a tourist destination and ensure the continued contribution of the sector to the EU economy.

There are no borders in the sky, and a joint European approach is essential to reform the EU airspace. The tourism sector is on board!

Eduardo Santander is Executive Director of the European Travel Commission