Seasonality in the tourist accommodation sector
Data extracted in June 2020.
Planned article update: July 2021.
July and August account for nearly one third of all annual nights spent in tourist accommodation in the EU in 2019.
Monthly distribution of the total number of nights spent in tourist accommodation establishments by type of accommodation, EU-27, 2019 (%)
This article focuses on the tourist accommodation sector in the European Union (EU) Member States, candidate and EFTA countries and looks at the seasonality of arrivals and nights spent in accommodation establishments as well as the seasonality of the turnover and the employment in this specific tourism industry.
Arrivals and nights spent in tourist accommodation
July and August account for nearly one third of all annual nights spent in tourist accommodation in the EU
The monthly accommodation statistics for 2019 showed a significant seasonal bias for arrivals and number of nights spent in tourist accommodation (see Figure 1 and Table 1). The number of arrivals was slightly more evenly spread over the year than the number of nights spent, mainly due to the concentration of longer stays in July and August.
Arrivals in tourist accommodation peaked in August with the number of arrivals 2.6 times higher than those in the slowest month (January).
August was clearly the peak month for nights spent with the number of nights 3.7 times higher than in the slowest month (again January). The two summer months, August and July, accounted for nearly one third (32.1 %) of all nights spent in tourist accommodation in 2019. The period from June to September represented more than half (53.1 %) of all nights spent during the year.
At country level
In the Alpine countries Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, the seasonal pattern was smoothed as these countries have a second peak season in winter
The overall situation at EU level shown in Figure 1 aggregates data from countries with a very different seasonal profile. For each country, the monthly share in the annual number of nights spent in tourist accommodation is listed in Table 1. The average of the absolute deviations of monthly data points from their mean can be used to measure seasonal variation. It gives an idea of how much the monthly figures deviate from even distribution (i.e. a perfectly even spread of nights spent away over the 12 months of the year).
In ten countries the seasonal variation in 2019 was above the EU average, with the typical Mediterranean destinations of Croatia, Greece, Montenegro, as well as Bulgaria, being on top. However, there was no absolute geographical rule since other countries located in these regions showed a much lower seasonal variation.
Figure 2a shows the countries with the highest seasonal variation, while Figures 2b and 2c show the countries with medium high and medium low seasonal variation respectively.
Figure 2d shows the countries with the lowest seasonal variation. This group includes Malta, while the other Mediterranean island state Cyprus showed a more pronounced seasonal pattern. When comparing the monthly series for these two Member States, they both seemed to have a very important summer season, but the slowdown during the winter was much more pronounced in Cyprus than in Malta (see Table 1). While activity in the winter months (November to February) for the Maltese accommodation sector was higher than the European average, the winter scores for Cyprus were relatively low. Croatia and Greece reported the biggest slowdowns during the winter season, with no more than 5 % of annual nights spent, while Cyprus and Bulgaria followed with 11.5 % and 12.7 % respectively.
A particular phenomenon leading to lower seasonality was observed in the Alpine countries Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. When looking at the months with a share above the expected share if the distribution were even (i.e. each month has a share of 8.3 % — or 1/12th of the annual total), these countries appeared to have higher figures in two separate periods of the year. In addition to a peak season during the summer months, these countries had a second peak season during the winter months. This double peak pattern is clearly depicted in Figure 2e.
Another way to evaluate seasonality is to look at the difference between the peak and the bottom months (see Table 2). On average for the EU-27, this ratio was 3.7. This means that occupancy (in nights spent) of accommodation establishments was 3.7 times higher in the peak month (August) than in the trough month (January).
Using this measure, the country with the highest seasonality was Croatia, where more than 27.7 million nights spent were recorded in August, 55.0 times more than the 504 000 nights spent in January. 30.4 % of all nights spent in Croatia were recorded in August - the highest monthly share in the EU in 2019. The second highest ratio was found in Greece closely followed by Montenegro. In these two countries the number of nights spent in the peak month (August) exceeded that of the slowest month (January) by a factor of 23.1 and 17.5 respectively. In the European Union, seasonality ratios below 3 were found in 9 Member States with Finland and Slovakia recording the lowest ratios (both below 2.5).
A similar approach is used in Table 3. However, here the period of observation is extended to the two peak and two slowest months. At EU-27 level, the peak months of July and August accounted for 32 % of nights spent in tourist accommodation. At the other end, the slowest months (January and November) represented 9 % of the annual nights spent. The two peak months were most pronounced in Croatia (58 %), Bulgaria (46 %) and Greece (42 %), while the two slowest months were least significant also in those three countries as well as in Cyprus.
In all EU Member States, the peak months for the tourist accommodation sector were July and August. The slowest months were January, February, November and December, differing across the countries while Bulgaria and Austria reported respectively March and May as the second slowest month.
By accommodation type
Seasonality in the tourist accommodation sector was less pronounced for establishments operating as a hotel than for other types of establishments
In the previous sections, the tourist accommodation sector was analysed as a whole. A breakdown by type of accommodation reveals that in 2019, seasonal fluctuations were less prominent for hotels than for other tourist accommodation (see Table 4 and Figure 3). For ease of presentation, the monthly data is grouped per quarter in Table 4. In all countries except Romania, the peak for the hotels (36 % in the third quarter, on average for the EU) was lower than the peak for both other types of tourist accommodation (45 % for holiday and other short-stay accommodation and 68 % for campsites in the third quarter, on average for the EU). In Romania the peak for the hotels (42 % in the third quarter) was higher than the peak for holiday and other short-stay accommodation (40 %) but lower than the peak for campsites (83 %). This was also the case for Montenegro.
In only four countries, hotels had to rely on the third quarter for more than half of their overnight stays: Bulgaria (56 %), Greece (54 %) and Croatia (52 %) as well as Montenegro (57 %). Establishments active in other segments of the accommodation sector had a much higher peak in the period July to September. In Croatia, Greece and Bulgaria, more than 60 % of all nights in holiday and other short stay accommodation were spent during the third quarter. In six Member States, more than 80 % of all overnight stays in campsites were in the third quarter, with Bulgaria reporting the highest share (85 %).
The double peak pattern for Austria as well as Liechtenstein and Switzerland is also reflected in the data in Table 4. Nearly the same number of nights were spent in hotels during the first and the third quarter of 2019 in Austria, while in holiday and other short-stay accommodation the number of nights spent in the first quarter outnumbered the traditional peak quarter, the third quarter.
The monthly distribution broken down by type of accommodation (see Figure 3) indicates that the summer peak is partly related to higher seasonality for accommodation other than hotels and similar establishments, mainly campsites, which depend much more on the weather (and are often closed in winter). However, the seasonal bias for hotels was most probably smoothed by overnight business travel.
Domestic versus inbound tourists
Nights spent by domestic tourists in tourist accommodation were more concentrated in August than those spent by inbound tourists
Domestic travellers appeared to be the main contributors to the peak in nights spent in tourist accommodation in August (see Figure 4). In the other months of the year, the figures for nights spent by domestic and inbound tourists were comparable.
Schemes to encourage domestic holiday makers to travel in the low season could reduce the seasonal bias in the tourist accommodation sector. However, although the domestic market may be easier to reach (from a marketing and tourism policy point of view), the importance of school holidays and production downtime in certain sectors of the economy cannot be ignored as key factors in planning holidays.
In contrast to what we see in Figure 4, the seasonal effects were slightly smoothed when looking at a three-month period by grouping peak months and slower months (see Table 5). At aggregate level (EU-27), the distribution of nights spent by domestic and inbound tourists broadly followed the same pattern.
In the countries identified earlier as having a strong seasonal bias in the accommodation sector, there were differences between the numbers of domestic and inbound guests.
The highest concentration was registered in Croatia where both the shares of domestic (54 %) and inbound (71 %) nights spent in the third quarter were much higher compared with the rest of Europe.
In Bulgaria (63 %) and Greece (60 %) as well as Montenegro (59 %), more than half of the total number of inbound nights spent over the year were spent during the third quarter. In these countries, the share of domestic nights spent during the third quarter (out of the total number of domestic nights spent during the year) was also higher than the European average, however less than 50 %.
In Italy, on the other hand, domestic tourism in terms of nights spent, was more concentrated in the third quarter (50 %) than inbound tourism (45 %).
Turnover of short-stay accommodation
Seasonality of the turnover in accommodation correlates well with the occupancy
Figure 5 shows the average monthly evolution of the nights spent in the EU-27 tourist accommodation establishments (NACE classes I55.1, I55.2 and I55.3) and the calendar adjusted turnover for the EU-27 accommodation (NACE division I55 – note that this also includes the very small NACE class I55.9). The seasonality of the nights spent was more pronounced than that of the turnover, which could partly be explained by the fact that during the peak season – often overlapping with school holidays – the occupancy of bed places will be relatively higher than the bedroom occupancy as compared to the low season (e.g. families versus business travellers). The determining factor for the turnover will rather be the number of rooms rented out, which does not fluctuate as much, than the number of bed places used.
Relationship with employment
The strong seasonal variation in activity of the accommodation sector was only partially reflected in the quarterly employment figures
We have seen seasonal fluctuations in the occupancy (i.e. nights spent) of tourist accommodation establishments and in the turnover of the short-stay accommodation sector. This final section takes a look at the effects of seasonality on employment in the accommodation sector.
Using data from the European Labour force survey, Figure 6 indicates that there was a much stronger seasonal bias in the accommodation sector than in the entire HORECA (hotel, restaurant and catering) sector. In the economy as a whole, seasonal fluctuations were very limited, but this aggregate figure hides of course strong seasonal variations in certain branches of the economy.
Nevertheless, seasonality in employment was much less pronounced than economic output (in terms of nights spent). In the peak season (third quarter), occupancy in accommodation establishments was 68 % higher than the annual average while employment was only 11 % higher in this quarter compared to the annual average. Although occupancy was 40 % lower in the first quarter than the annual average, employment was only 9 % below the annual average. Since the data refers to the number of persons employed (not full-time equivalents), it was not possible to analyse the effect of different working time patterns according to the season.
Source data for tables and graphs
Regulation (EU) No 692/2011 concerning European statistics on tourism, organises the European statistical system of tourism statistics. This system consists of two main components: statistics on capacity and occupancy of tourist accommodation and statistics on tourism demand. The former are collected in most Member States via surveys filled in by accommodation establishments, while the latter are mostly collected by means of traveller surveys at the border or via traditional household surveys.
Statistics on the occupancy of tourist accommodation refer to the number of arrivals (at accommodation establishments) and the number of nights spent by residents and non-residents, broken down by type of establishment or by region. Both annual and monthly series are available. Statistics on the use of bedplaces and bedrooms (occupancy rates) are also compiled.
Statistics on the demand for tourism look at participation, i.e. the number of residents that make at least one trip of at least one overnight stay during the reference period. They also look at the number of tourism trips made (and the number of nights spent on those trips), broken down by tourism-related variables such as country of destination, month of departure, length of stay, type of organisation of the trip, mode of transport, type of accommodation or expenditure, and by socio-demographic variables, such as age or gender.
In June 2010, the European Commission released a Communication entitled "Europe, the world's No 1 tourist destination - a new political framework for tourism in Europe". One of the challenges and opportunities facing the European tourism industry is the seasonal distribution of demand for tourism. Better use of existing tourist infrastructure and staff in the low season could help businesses improve their productivity and benefit from a more stable and motivated workforce. Extending the tourism season or spreading tourism activities more evenly throughout the year can significantly boost the sustainability and competitiveness of European tourist destinations.
- Capacity and occupancy of tourist accommodation establishments (ESMS metadata file — tour_occ_esms)
- With 2012 as reference year:
- Regulation (EU) No 692/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 July 2011 concerning European statistics on tourism and repealing Council Directive 95/57/EC. (Summary)
- Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 1051/2011 of 20 October 2011 implementing Regulation (EU) No 692/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning European statistics on tourism, as regards the structure of the quality reports and the transmission of the data.
- Previous legal acts (concerning reference periods before 2012):
- Directive 95/57/EC of 23 November 1995 on the collection of statistical information in the field of tourism.
- Commission Decision 1999/35/CE of 9 December 1998 on the procedures for implementing Council Directive 95/57/EC on the collection of statistical information in the field of tourism.
- Commission Decision 2004/883/CE of 10 December 2004 adjusting the Annex to Council Directive 95/57/EC on the collection of statistical information in the field of tourism as regards country lists.
- Directive 2006/110/EC of 20 November 2006 adapting Directives 95/57/EC and 2001/109/EC in the field of statistics, by reason of the accession of Bulgaria and Romania.