Statistics Explained

Tourism statistics - EU and Central and South America

Data extracted in November 2018

No planned article update


Mexico and Cuba: top Central and South American destinations for Europeans in 2017.

Tourism from Central and South America to the EU has more than doubled between 2007 and 2017.

EU Central South America Tourism final-01.png

This article was drafted on the occasion of the 15th Global Forum on Tourism Statistics, taking place from 28 to 30 November 2018 in Cuzco, Peru. The biennial Global Forum is a joint initiative of Eurostat and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in close cooperation with a host country, this year Peru. This edition of the Global Forum is the first one to take place in Central and South America.

The article takes a look at tourism flows between the European Union (EU) and Central and South America. The first section focuses on visits to Central and South America made by EU residents. The second looks at visits made by residents of Central and South America to the EU using accommodation statistics (nights spent in rented tourist accommodation).

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Europeans made 6.7 million trips to Central and South America in 2017

In 2017, EU-28 residents made nearly 77 million trips outside the European Union, of which more than 50 million were outside the European continent (see Figure 1). Europe — and very often a tourist’s own country of residence — remained the most attractive destination for most trips made by residents of the European Union. However, outbound trips to Europe were shorter than those to other continents (average of 7 nights versus 16 nights per trip respectively).

Figure 1: Trips of EU residents by destination, EU-28, 2017 (%)
Source: Eurostat (tour_dem_ttw)

Figure 2 takes a closer look at trips made outside the EU. Trips to other destinations in Europe — such as Turkey, Switzerland, Norway, Russia and all other non-EU European countries — made up the largest share (34 %). America accounted for more than one in four trips outside the EU (26 %), of which Central and South America accounted for 9 %. When measured in terms of nights spent and expenditure, Central and South America’s share of all non-EU tourism increases to 11 % and 12 % respectively.

In 2017, EU residents made 6.7 million trips to Central and South America — representing a total of 111 million nights — and spent EUR 13.7 billion on those trips. Note that a part of the EUR 13.7 billion spent stayed within the EU economy, for instance for intercontinental flights operated by European airlines or commission fees charged by European travel agencies.

Figure 2: Trips, nights spent and expenditure of EU residents outside EU-28, by destination, EU-28, 2017 (%)
Source: Eurostat (tour_dem_ttw), (tour_dem_tnw), (tour_dem_extotw)

Mexico and Cuba: top Central and South American destinations for Europeans

In 2017, Europeans made nearly 51 million trips outside the European continent (EU and other European countries). 13 % of these trips were to Central and South American countries with Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Brazil being among the top 20 destinations outside Europe (see Table 1).

Table 1: Top 20 destinations outside Europe for trips of EU-28 residents, EU-28, 2017
Source: Eurostat (tour_dem_ttw)

Nearly one out of three trips to Central and South America were to Mexico (17 %, 1.2 million trips with an average stay of 12 nights per trip) and Cuba (14%, 923 000 trips, 16 nights per trip) (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Top destinations in Central and South America for EU tourists, EU-28, 2017 (%)
Source: Eurostat (tour_dem_ttw)

With nearly two million trips, German tourists made the largest number of trips to Central and South America compared with residents of other EU countries (see Figure 4). Tourists from Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Spain represented around three quarters of all trips and nights spent of EU residents to Central and South America and 68 % of their tourism expenditure during the trips.

Figure 4: Top EU-28 tourists to Central and South America, 2017 (% of all trips of EU-28 residents)
Source: Eurostat (tour_dem_ttw), (tour_dem_tnw), (tour_dem_extotw)

In the six year period 2012—2017, the number of trips by EU residents to Central and South America increased by 26 % (data based on 24 countries, which account for 81 % of the trips made by EU residents).

Tourism from Central and South America to the EU has more than doubled in ten years

In 2017, the number of nights spent in the EU by tourists from Central and South America was 2.5 times higher than in 2007 and reached nearly 30 million nights (see Figure 5). Tourism from Central and South America has risen much more than tourism from North America; this results to an increase of +50 % for the entire continent of America.

Figure 5: Growth of tourism nights spent in EU tourist accommodation by region of origin of the guest, 2017 compared with 2007, EU-28 (%)
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_ninraw)

Figure 6 shows that the majority of guests in EU tourist accommodation establishments were domestic tourists (51 %), followed by tourists from other EU countries (35 %). Looking at tourists coming from regions outside the EU, those from other European countries accounted for the largest share of nights spent (33 %), followed by Asia (27 %) and North America (23 %).

Figure 6: Nights spent in EU tourist accommodation, by world region of the guest, EU-28, 2017 (%)
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_ninraw)

Nearly 7 % of all nights in EU-28 tourist accommodation by residents of countries outside the EU, were spent by tourists from Central and South America; for Portugal the share was 27 %, while it was 10 % and above for Spain, Belgium, Italy and Malta. (see Figure 7).

Figure 7: Share of nights spent by tourists from Central and South America out of the total nights spent by guests from outside the EU-28, 2016 (%)
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_ninraw)

In total, tourists from Central and South America spent 29.5 million nights in EU tourist accommodation in 2017. More than four out of five of these overnight stays were in Italy and Spain (22 % each), the United Kingdom (16 %), France (11 %) and Portugal (9 %) (see Figure 8). Note that this data source does not include tourist stays at owned second homes or stays with friends and relatives, nor stays at smaller establishments that are excluded from the scope of observation.

Figure 8: Tourism nights spent by residents of Central and South America in EU-28, 2017 (%)
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_ninraw)

Central and South America is a net exporter of travel related services to the EU

Each year since 2010, services related to travel showed a negative balance in the EU’s international trade in services (balance of payments) with Central and South America, with debits exceeding credits, in other words imports exceeding exports (see Figure 9).

In 2016, the EU imported services related to travel from Central and South America (i.e. Europeans’ spending on trips in Central and South America) valued at nearly EUR 9 billion [1]. In the same year, the EU exported nearly EUR 7.5 billion to Central and South America (i.e. Central and South Americans' spending on trips in Europe). Europe was a net importer of services related to travel, with a negative balance of around EUR 1.5 billion.

Figure 9: EU-28 balance of payments with Central and South America, travel item, 2010-2016 (mio euro)
Source: Eurostat (bop_its6_det)

Source data for tables and graphs

Data sources

This article is an analysis of harmonised data collected by the Member States in the frame of the Regulation (EU) No 692/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning European statistics on tourism.

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.

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.


According to a United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) publication titled ‘Tourism highlights’, the EU is a major tourist destination, with five of its Member States among the world’s top 10 destinations in 2017.

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.

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