Seasonality in the tourist accommodation sector

Data extracted in July 2021.

Planned article update: July 2022.


July and August accounted for 42 % of all annual nights spent in EU tourist accommodation in 2020.

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Monthly distribution of the total number of nights spent in tourist accommodation establishments by type of accommodation, EU, 2020 (% in the entire year)

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.

This analysis from the point of view of the supply side complements another article on seasonality in tourism demand in which the seasonal bias in tourism trips of Europeans is discussed.

Full article

Arrivals and nights spent in tourist accommodation

July and August accounted for 42 % of all annual nights spent in EU tourist accommodation in 2020

Seasonality has always had a big impact on tourism. Leading factors are environmental (such as climate conditions or geographical location) together with social and cultural factors (such as school holidays). The year 2020 however, was exceptional for the tourism industry, being one of the most affected sectors in the Covid-19 crisis.

The pandemic caused a decline by more than 50 % in nights spent at EU tourist accommodation establishments, compared with 2019 (see also article "Tourism statistics - nights spent at tourist accommodation establishments"). In 2020, tourists’ behavior was heavily affected by travel restrictions and health protocols introduced by governments all around the world. The monthly accommodation statistics showed that the usual seasonal bias for arrivals and nights spent in tourist accommodation became even more pronounced in 2020.

Figure 1 shows that, despite the large concentration of arrivals and overnight stays during the summer months of 2020, the decline was remarkable in absolute figures compared with 2019: from 926 million nights spent in July and August 2019, to 579 million nights in July and August 2020. In other words, on an average night during these two summer months, 5.6 million fewer bed places across the EU were occupied in July and August 2020 (9.3 million) compared with an average summer night in 2019 (14.9 million bed places).

Figure 1: Arrivals and nights spent in EU tourist accommodation establishments by month, 2020 and 2019
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim) (tour_occ_arm)

The usual shoulder season of the 2nd quarter (April to June) was extremely calm in 2020 due to the outbreak of the pandemic in March, the lockdown imposed in most EU countries in April and the travel restrictions all around the world. Less than 3 % of all tourism nights in 2020 were spent during April and May, while the share of these two months was around 15 % the previous years.

August was clearly the peak month for nights spent, with nearly one in four of all nights spent throughout the entire year. The two summer months, July and August, accounted for 42 % of all nights spent in tourist accommodation in 2020, while the entire summer season from June to September represented more than 60 % of all nights spent during the entire year.

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.

Figure 2 shows the effect of the pandemic in 2020 and the normal fluctuations due to seasonality as this was in 2019. January and February, the months before the outbreak, were relatively normal (see Figure 1) but turned out to account for more than 20% of the annual nights spent due to the impact of the pandemic on the other ten months of the year. The near absence of tourism flows in spring shifted the distribution towards the summer months.

Figure 2: Monthly distribution of arrivals and nights spent in EU tourist accommodation, 2020 and 2019
(% share in the entire year)
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim) (tour_occ_arm)

At country level

In 2020, due to Covid-19, seasonality in tourism increased in all EU Member States

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 deviation. 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 2020, the seasonal deviation at EU level reached 5.5 points, while the previous years this indicator did not exceed 3.4 points. This reflects the increase of the seasonal deviation in all Member states, due to the huge drop in the number of nights spent in April and May.

Table 1: Nights spent in tourist accommodation establishments, distribution per month, 2020
(% share in the entire year)
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim)

The seasonal deviation in 2020 was observed in Croatia and Greece with 10.1 and 8.4 respectively, followed by Slovenia, Italy and Bulgaria (all above 6.5), as well as Albania with 7.2 (see Figure 3). In these six countries, the peak month was August with the highest shares of nights spent, ranging between 27 % in Slovenia to 41 % in Croatia.

Figure 3: Seasonal deviation(*) of nights spent in tourist accommodation establishments, 2020 and 2019
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim)

Each year, a particular phenomenon leading to lower seasonality is 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. In 2020, due to the exceptional impact of the pandemic on seasonality in tourism, this phenomenon was also observed in other countries (such as Belgium, Spain, Malta or Portugal). The share of nights spent before the outbreak of the pandemic, in January and February 2020, increased due to the huge drop in the number of nights spent during the months that followed. This led to a first peak in those winter months, followed by a second peak in the summer months.

By accommodation type

Seasonality in the tourist accommodation sector was less pronounced for establishments operating as a hotel than for other types of accommodation

In the previous sections, the tourist accommodation sector was analysed as a whole. A breakdown by type of accommodation reveals that in 2020, seasonal fluctuations were less prominent for hotels than for other tourist accommodation (see Table 2 and Figure 4). For ease of presentation, the monthly data is grouped per quarter in Table 4. In the big majority of countries, the peak for the hotels (46 % in the third quarter, on average for the EU) was lower than the peak for both other types of tourist accommodation (55 % for holiday and other short-stay accommodation and 78 % for campsites in the third quarter, on average for the EU).

Table 2: Nights spent in tourist accommodation by type of establishment and quarter of the year, 2020
(% share in the entire year)
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim)

Figure 4: Monthly distribution of nights spent in EU tourist accommodation, by type of establishment, 2020 and 2019
(% in the entire year)
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim)

In seven countries, hotels had to rely on the third quarter for more than half of their overnight stays: Croatia (73 %), Greece (67 %), Bulgaria (63 %), Italy (59 %), Slovenia (56 %) and Romania (54 %) as well as Albania (67 %). The exceptional double peak pattern is also reflected in Table 2. In Belgium, Spain, Malta and Austria, as well as Iceland, the number of nights spent in hotels during the first quarter, outnumbered the traditional peak quarter, the third quarter.

Establishments active in other segments of the accommodation sector had a much higher peak in the period July to September. In Croatia, Greece, Slovenia and Bulgaria, as well as Albania, more than two out of three overnights in holiday and other short stay accommodation were in the third quarter. In Estonia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Czechia, as well as in north Macedonia and Serbia, more than nine out of ten overnight stays in campsites were in 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).

Domestic versus inbound tourists

In August 2020, seven out of ten nights in EU tourist accommodation were spent by domestic tourists

In the course of March 2020, tourists stopped travelling abroad due to Covid-19 related restrictions and even when borders started opening again in April, international tourists had to stay in a quarantine in many countries. Compared with 2019, nights spent by international guests fell by 68 % while the drop for Domestic guests was 37 %.

Figure 5 shows the impact of the pandemic on tourist behaviour. Domestic travellers appeared to be the main contributors to the summer peak in nights spent in EU tourist accommodation. Although August was the peak month for both domestic and international nights spent, international tourists spent less than three out of ten (29 %) of the total overnights in August, while this share was 46 % in 2019.

Figure 5: Nights spent in EU tourist accommodation establishments, by origin of the guest, 2020 and 2019 (Millions)
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim)

Turnover of short-stay accommodation

Seasonality of the turnover in accommodation correlates well with the occupancy

Short-term business statistics provide monthly and quarterly indices for the sector of short-stay accommodation for visitors and other travellers (NACE division I55).

Figure 6 shows the average monthly evolution of the nights spent in the EU tourist accommodation establishments (NACE classes I55.1, I55.2 and I55.3) and the calendar adjusted turnover for the EU accommodation sector (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.

Figure 6: Monthly calendar adjusted turnover for accommodation (NACE I55) and monthly nights spent at tourist accommodation (NACE I551-I553), EU, 2020
(index=average for 2015)
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim) (sts_setu_m)

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 7 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.

Figure 7: Seasonal variation in occupancy of tourist accommodation establishments and in employment (by sector), EU, 2020
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim) (tour_lfs1r2)

Nevertheless, seasonality in employment was much less pronounced than for the nights spent. In the peak season (third quarter), occupancy in accommodation establishments was 116 % higher than the annual average while employment was only 9 % higher in this quarter compared to the annual average. Although occupancy was 62 % lower in the second quarter than the annual average, employment was only 5 % 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

Data sources

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.

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