Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium. (photo via Getty Images)
The United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) held a webinar with leading members of the European Travel Commission (ETC) and the European Tourism Association (ETOA) to provide an update on the state of European travel this year on April 21, 2022.
Eduardo Santander, CEO of ETC, and Tom Jenkins, CEO of ETOA, shared their thoughts about the state of European travel, on everything from new airplane routes to the U.S. and the role of American travelers in Europe’s economic recovery to the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Overall, both travel industry leaders were positive and optimistic about the return to greater tourism in Europe, Santander calling it “real, tangible optimism.”
A recent Allianz Partners report was cited during the update. It details how Europe is predicted to see a 600 percent increase, or six times the amount, of international arrivals from America this summer in comparison to 2021’s summer totals, showcasing part of the reason why Santander and Jenkins are optimistic about this year.
The Role of Americans in Europe’s Economic Recovery
Both Santander and Jenkins see American travelers as the key to Europe’s economic recovery. Why? They cited a few reasons.
One is the continual halt of inbound travelers from Asia; countries like China and Japan continue more rigorous anti-COVID-19 policies than many European and American countries, leading to fewer people from these countries traveling internationally.
The other is that domestic or intra-European travel (which is defined as travelers from one European country visiting another), simply cannot replace the sheer numbers of American travelers Europe once welcomed prior to the pandemic.
Young travelers in Paris. (Photo courtesy of encrier/iStock/Getty Images Plus)
“…There’s been virtually no inbound tourism coming into Europe for the last two years,” said Jenkins. “Whilst there’s been a lot of intra-European travel taking place and a large quantity of domestic travel taking place, and I know this has been duplicated in the United States, the domestic travel and a lot of the intra-European travel, does not replace the long-haul inbound, particularly American travel, that the industry is used to.”
“The long-haul, and in particular the U.S. market, is so critical for so many particular places, and there’s no replacement for it for the time being,” Santander agreed.
New Airplane Routes Lead to New Markets in the U.S.
North American travelers to Europe are also changing with new routes to Europe from the Midwest and the South, connecting cities that aren’t conventional hubs.
“A lot of airlines that used to travel to the east are now switching to travel to the west,” Santander said, referencing how some airlines in Europe that have stopped flying to Russia are now rerouting to pick up North American travelers instead. “It could be a huge opportunity not just for USTOA to explore new destinations, new product development…”
With these new routes may come a change in traveler mindset and demographics as European destinations and tour operators must now take into consideration people who might not be as knowledgeable about Europe or how to travel there as those located on the East Coast or the West Coast of the United States.
“For us, this is like an expansion into a completely new market, which is Mid-America…and this is particularly good news for everybody, because also the demographics in America are changing dramatically and Baby Boomers are already disappearing…we have to diversify,” said Santander.
The Impact of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine on European Travel
Another main conversation topic was the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Both men agreed that safety concerns are the greatest issue for travelers, not real threats.
While the states in the Baltic and around Ukraine are expected to be the most impacted by a lack of tourism due to the fear of close proximity to the crisis, both men also agreed that now was the best time to visit these places, not only because it’s safe, but because they need the support.
Map of Eastern Europe. (photo via iStock/Getty Images Plus/fstop123)
“I also would stress that the one thing the countries neighboring Ukraine need now are visitors,” said Jenkins. “This is probably a great time to go to Poland, even Moldova; these are extraordinary times, and I don’t think we should be shy in advocating visitors to go there.”
Santander also noted that these countries, which once welcomed large numbers of Russian tourists, must now shift their own tourist markets to North Americans, which will require new marketing and advertising campaigns.
“From our own point of view, and this is the role of ETC, we’re also trying to support those destinations that need help now. What kind of help do they need? They need help on communication,” he said, in order for American travelers to regain the confidence to travel to destinations like Prague and Poland.
Business Travel in Europe Remains Uncertain
One disheartening note was the state of business travel in Europe. As many in the industry know, business travel accounts for much of the revenue for hotels across the globe; without it, the travel industry is set on a slower recovery path.
“We see clearly also the huge loss of the business traveler…we don’t know when transatlantic business travel will reignite – if it will reignite,” said Santander. This, he mentioned, may pose challenges to destinations and hotels that catered largely to business travelers pre-pandemic.
“Very few hotels are built for leisure tourism,” said Jenkins. “They’re built principally to entertain business visitors, and the leisure industry, specifically in Europe, very much piggybacks on the back of the infrastructure built for the business tourism community. If that starts failing, we can rush in and fill the gap, but it changes the business model for the hospitality industry quite dramatically.”
While it’s unclear whether or not business travel in Europe will return to the levels it once enjoyed pre-pandemic, there is room for adaptation within the segments of the travel industry that once relied upon it.
Everything considered, European travel is safe; the countries are open, and they are eager to welcome Americans with open arms.