Tourism in the EU - what a normal spring season looks like - before Covid-19

Data extracted in May 2020.


In spring 2019, nearly one third (32 %) of annual nights spent at tourist accommodation establishments were recorded from March to June.
Nights spent in tourist accommodation establishments by month, EU-27, March-June 2019 (%)
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim)

Tourism occupies an important place in the economy of the Member States, with tourism activities representing a large potential source of employment. Tourism satellite accounts show that the annual tourism gross value added in the EU is estimated at EUR 787 billion.

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, virtually all Member States have implemented containment measures and restrictions on non-essential travel, closed their borders and reinstated internal border controls within the Schengen area, often accompanied by requirements for cross-border travellers to stay in quarantine. This meant that millions of European citizens were suddenly unable to travel. In the course of March 2020, tourism came to a grinding halt and it is not likely that the recovery will start before the summer peak season.

The European Commission released on 13 May 2020 its Communication “Tourism and transport in 2020 and beyond”. This article provides some background information that could be used to quantify the potential impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the tourism economy in the spring season in 2020.

For the purpose of this article, the spring season is defined as the period spanning the months March to June included. Note that a similar article is available on “what a normal summer season looks like” (summer season defined as the peak months of July and August).

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One third of the annual nights at EU tourist accommodation

While in most European destinations the tourism peak is in summer, the spring season is also an important period, with nearly one third (32 %) of annual nights spent at tourist accommodation establishments recorded during the four months from March to June (2019 data) (see Figure 1). Spring represents more than 900 million nights spent, out of an annual total of 2.8 billion nights spent at accommodation establishments across the EU. The monthly share increases as summer approaches: from 6 % of the annual total observed during March, 7 % in April and 8 % in May to 11 % in June.

Figure 1: Nights spent in tourist accommodation establishments by month, EU-27, March-June 2019 (%)
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim)

The weight of the spring season in annual accommodation figures is very significant in all Member States, ranging from 24 % and 27 % in Bulgaria and Croatia respectively (the two countries with the highest tourism concentration in the summer peak months (see Seasonality in the tourist accommodation sector) to 35 % in Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta and the Netherlands (see Table 1 and Figure 2). The share of the spring season in annual tourism is similar when looking at nights spent by residents and nights spent by non-residents.

Table 1: Nights spent in tourist accommodation establishments, March-June 2019 (thousand)
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim)

Figure 2: Nights spent in tourist accommodation establishments, March-June 2019 as share of the entire year 2019
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim)

400 million tourism trips and 170 billion euro spent

The first part of this article looked at spring season occupancy of EU tourist accommodation establishments in 2019. The remaining part looks at trips made by EU residents from March to June 2018 (data for 2019 not yet available). From March to June, residents of the EU made nearly 400 million trips, corresponding to 34 % of the total number of tourism trips with overnight stays made in a year (2018 data) (see Table 2). Those trips account for 1.8 billion overnight stays and EUR 170 billion spending, of which EUR 66 billion was spent on domestic trips and EUR 62 billion on trips to destinations in other EU Member States (and the remaining EUR 42 billion on trips to non-EU destinations).

Table 2: Tourism trips, nights and expenditure of EU-27 residents by destination and month of departure, March-June 2018
Source: Eurostat (tour_dem_ttmd) (tour_dem_tnmd)

The pattern of destinations preference in spring does not differ much from the destination visited during the entire year: 7 out of 10 trips were domestic trips (accounting for 54 % of the nights spent and 39 % of the tourism expenditure).

The countries with the highest number of tourism trips in the spring months March to June are Germany (104 million trips, of which 64 million domestic trips), France (73 million trips, of which 51 million domestic trips) and Spain (52 million trips, of which 47 million domestic trips) (see Tables 3a, 3b and 3c for detailed data by country).

Table 3a: Tourism trips of EU residents by destination and month of departure, March-June 2018 (thousand trips)
Source: Eurostat (tour_dem_ttmd)

Table 3b: Tourism nights of EU residents by destination and month of departure, March-June 2018 (thousand nights)
Source: Eurostat (tour_dem_tnmd)

Table 3c: Tourism expenditure of EU residents by destination and month of departure, March-June 2018 (million Euro)
Source: Eurostat (tour_dem_extot)

Europeans spend more than 1.5 billion overnights in the EU

The previous chapter looked at the data from the point of view of the country of origin of the visitor and the destination of the trip (domestic trips within the country of residence, and outbound trips to foreign countries). This chapter focuses on intra-EU tourism trips by looking at the internal tourism of each EU country (domestic trips made by its own residents, and inbound trips of tourists coming from other EU countries) (see Tables 4a, 4b and 4c).

During spring (March to June), EU residents made nearly 360 million tourism trips to destinations in the EU, corresponding to 1.5 billion nights in rented or non-rented accommodation and EUR 128 billion spent during these spring trips, or over EUR 1 billion per day during the four spring months.

Looking at inbound overnight trips from other EU countries, regardless of the type of accommodation, in three countries the months March to June account for more than 40 % of the annual intra-EU visitors: Belgium (42 %), Malta (43 %) and the Netherlands (45 %). When looking at domestic tourism, Germany records important domestic flows in spring (40 % of the annual number of trips made by residents of Germany to destinations within the country).

Table 4a: Intra-EU tourism trips by country visited and month of departure, March-June 2018 (thousand trips)
Source: Eurostat (tour_dem_ttw)

Table 4b: Intra-EU tourism nights by country visited and month of departure of the trip, March-June 2018 (thousand nights)
Source: Eurostat (tour_dem_tnw)

Table 4c: Intra-EU tourism expenditure by country visited and month of departure of the trip, March-June 2018 (million euro)
Source: Eurostat (tour_dem_extotw)

Source data for tables and graphs

Data sources

Tourism, in a statistical context, refers to the activity of visitors taking a trip to a destination outside their usual environment, for less than a year. It can be for any main purpose, including business, leisure or other personal reasons other than to be employed by a resident person, household or enterprise in the place visited.

In July 2011, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union adopted a new Regulation (EU) No 692/2011 concerning European statistics on tourism and repealing Council Directive 95/57/EC; this came into force for reference year 2012 and requires EU Member States to provide a regular set of comparable tourism statistics.

Tourism statistics in the EU consist of two main components: on the one hand, statistics relating to capacity and occupancy of collective tourist accommodation; on the other, statistics relating to tourism demand. In most EU Member States, the former are collected via surveys filled in by accommodation establishments, while the latter are mainly collected via traveller surveys at border crossings or through household surveys.

Data from a range of other official sources may be used to study tourism. These statistics include:


According to a United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) publication titled ‘International Tourism Highlights’, the EU is a major tourist destination, with four of its Member States among the world’s top 10 destinations. Tourism has the potential to contribute towards employment and economic growth, as well as to development in rural, peripheral or less-developed areas. These characteristics drive the demand for reliable and harmonised statistics within this field, as well as within the wider context of regional policy and sustainable development policy areas.

Tourism can play a significant role in the development of European regions. Infrastructure created for tourism purposes contributes to local development, while jobs that are created or maintained can help counteract industrial or rural decline. Sustainable tourism involves the preservation and enhancement of cultural and natural heritage, ranging from the arts to local gastronomy or the preservation of biodiversity.

In 2006, the European Commission adopted a Communication titled ‘A renewed EU tourism policy: towards a stronger partnership for European tourism’ (COM(2006) 134 final). It addressed a range of challenges that will shape tourism in the coming years, including Europe’s ageing population, growing external competition, consumer demand for more specialised tourism, and the need to develop more sustainable and environmentally-friendly tourism practices. It argued that more competitive tourism supply and sustainable destinations would help raise tourist satisfaction and secure Europe’s position as the world’s leading tourist destination. It was followed in October 2007 by another Communication, titled ‘Agenda for a sustainable and competitive European tourism’ (COM(2007) 621 final), which proposed actions in relation to the sustainable management of destinations, the integration of sustainability concerns by businesses, and the awareness of sustainability issues among tourists.

The Lisbon Treaty acknowledged the importance of tourism — outlining a specific competence for the EU in this field and allowing for decisions to be taken by a qualified majority. An article within the Treaty specifies that the EU ‘shall complement the action of the Member States in the tourism sector, in particular by promoting the competitiveness of Union undertakings in that sector’. ‘Europe, the world’s No 1 tourist destination — a new political framework for tourism in Europe’ (COM(2010) 352 final) was adopted by the European Commission in June 2010. This Communication seeks to encourage a coordinated approach for initiatives linked to tourism and defined a new framework for actions to increase the competitiveness of tourism and its capacity for sustainable growth. It proposed a number of European or multinational initiatives — including a consolidation of the socioeconomic knowledge base for tourism — aimed at achieving these objectives.

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