Tourism statistics at regional level
Data extracted in March 2018.
Planned article update: September 2019.
Europe was the most frequently visited region in the world in 2017, accounting for just over half (51 %) of the 1.32 billion international tourist arrivals.
The most popular tourist region in the EU was Canarias in Spain — with almost 103 million nights spent in tourist accommodation.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) publication Tourism highlights, several European Union (EU) Member States are among the world’s leading tourist destinations. The wealth of European cultures, the variety of its landscapes and the quality of its tourist infrastructure are likely to be among the varied reasons why tourists choose to take their holidays in Europe. In 2016, France had more tourist arrivals than any other country in the world, while Spain (3rd), Italy (5th), the United Kingdom (6th) and Germany (7th) also featured among the world’s top 10 tourist destinations.
Some of the main challenges facing tourism in the EU include:
- economic competitiveness — for example, regulatory and administrative burden, staff retention, or keeping up-to-date with information technology developments;
- markets and competition — growing demand for customised experiences, new products, growing competition from other destinations;
- security and safety — for example, the environment and sustainability, personal security or food safety.
Indeed, tourism has the potential to play a significant role in the economic aspirations of many EU regions and can be of particular importance in remote/peripheral regions, such as the EU’s island, coastal or mountainous regions. Infrastructure that is created for tourism purposes contributes to local and regional development, while jobs that are created or maintained can help counteract industrial or rural decline. Sustainable tourism is an alternative area which provides considerable potential for growth: it involves the protection and enhancement of cultural and natural heritage, ranging from the arts to local gastronomy, or the preservation of biodiversity.
Characteristics such as these drive the demand for reliable and harmonised statistics within the field of tourism, as well as within the wider context of regional policy and sustainable development policy. 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 is important to note that this definition is wider than the common everyday definition, insofar as it encompasses not only private, leisure trips but also visits to family and friends and business trips. This is primarily because tourism is viewed from an economic perspective, whereby holidaymakers and people making business trips have broadly similar consumption patterns, for example, transport, accommodation and restaurant/catering services.
Number of overnight stays
The number of tourist nights spent/overnight stays provides information relating to the total number of nights all guests/tourists actually spend (sleeps or stays) in a tourist accommodation establishment. It therefore reflects both the length of stay and the number of visitors and is considered a key indicator for analysing the tourism sector.
According to initial Eurostat estimates, there were approximately 3.2 billion nights spent in EU-28 tourist accommodation in 2017. This figure marked a 5.1 % increase when compared with a year before (when there were an estimated 3.1 billion nights spent), continuing a pattern of steady annual increases since 2009. These recent increases in the number of nights spent were driven by a particularly rapid increase in the number of nights spent by non-residents.
The total number of nights spent in EU-28 tourist accommodation was evenly divided between rural areas, towns and suburbs, and cities
Figure 1 provides an analysis of the number of nights spent in tourist accommodation, by degree of urbanisation. The information presented covers both domestic (resident) and inbound international (non-resident) tourists staying in all types of tourist accommodation. Across the whole of the EU-28, there was a relatively even distribution of the total number of nights spent in tourist accommodation, as the highest share was recorded for rural areas (36.1 %), followed by cities (33.8 %) and towns and suburbs (30.0 %); note that these statistics refer to 2014.More recent data are available for most of the EU Member States, but not for the United Kingdom. In 2016, cities were the most popular destination for tourists in 12 of the 27 Member States for which data are presented in Figure 1. In two of the Baltic Member States — Latvia (66.1 %; 2015 data) and Estonia (54.7 %) — cities accounted for more than half of the total nights spent by tourists. By contrast, more than half of the total nights spent in tourist accommodation in Malta were in towns and suburbs (50.2 %), while in excess of 50 % of the nights spent in Denmark (53.8 %), Greece (64.5 %), Croatia (65.6 %) and Austria (66.8 %) were in rural areas; these were predominantly coastal regions in Denmark, Greece and Croatia, and predominantly alpine regions in Austria.
A relatively high share of the total nights spent by non-residents in tourist accommodation were concentrated in coastal destinations
Many coastal areas are characterised by considerable building activity as an increasing number of people choose to live near the sea and coastal tourism expands its footprint; a high level of activity can potentially have serious implications in relation to sustainable development. Coastal areas, in a statistical context, are defined on the basis of and consist of local administrative units or municipalities that border the sea, or have at least half of their total surface area within a distance of 10 km from the sea.
Almost half (47.4 %) of the total nights spent in EU-28 tourist accommodation in 2014 were in coastal areas. In 2016, more than 9 out of every 10 nights spent in the tourist accommodation of Malta, Cyprus, Greece, Croatia and Denmark were located in coastal areas, while coastal areas also accounted for at least three quarters of the total number of nights spent in Portugal, Latvia, Estonia and Spain and for a majority of the nights spent in a further four Member States. Note that five of the EU Member States — the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Hungary, Austria and Slovakia — are landlocked and are therefore did not have any nights spent in coastal areas.
While the overall inclination to stay in coastal areas was usually higher in southern EU Member States that are characterised by climatic conditions conducive to beach holidays, Figure 2 presents an alternative analysis with information for residents and non-residents. In 2014, more than half (54.1 %) of all the nights spent by non-residents in the EU-28 were in coastal areas, while a greater proportion (58.2 %) of the nights spent by residents were in non-coastal areas; these figures probably reflect, at least to some degree, a higher proportion of resident nights being for business travel.In the popular holiday destinations of Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Portugal and Spain, non-residents were more likely (than residents) to spend a higher proportion of nights in coastal areas. For example, in Spain — the most popular tourism destination in the EU in terms of nights spent, with 455 million nights in 2016 — almost 9 out of every 10 nights spent by non-residents were in coastal areas, whereas the corresponding share for residents was 58.8 %. It is interesting to contrast this pattern with the situation in France and Italy, where residents were more inclined (than non-residents) to spend their time in coastal areas.
The three most popular tourist destinations in the EU were Canarias and Cataluña in Spain and the Adriatic coastal region of Jadranska Hrvatska (Croatia)
The top 10 tourist regions in the EU — in terms of nights spent in tourist accommodation by domestic and international tourists in NUTS level 2 regions — are shown in Figure 3. In 2016, almost 103 million nights were spent in the Spanish island region of Canarias, the vast majority of which were accounted for by non-residents (91.3 million nights spent). The second most popular region was also in Spain, namely, Cataluña, while three more Spanish regions featured in the top 10: Illes Balears, Andalucía and Comunidad Valenciana. More generally, this ranking was dominated by coastal regions, as the five Spanish regions mentioned above were joined by Jadranska Hrvatska (Croatia; the third most popular region in the EU), Veneto (Italy) and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (France). As such, the only non-coastal regions that appeared in the top 10 were two regions in France, the capital city region of Île de France and Rhône-Alpes (which provides opportunities for both summer and winter tourism). It is interesting to note that non-nationals accounted for a majority of the total nights spent in 8 out of the 10 most popular regions in the EU, including the top seven regions, with this pattern only reversed in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur and Rhône-Alpes.
The second part of Figure 3 shows the top 10 regions with the highest number of nights spent in tourist accommodation by residents. The three most popular destinations — in terms of the absolute number of nights spent — were all in France, confirming that a relatively high proportion of French tourists chose to holiday in their own country. The number of nights spent by French residents in Rhône-Alpes was 2.5 times as high as the number of nights spent by non-residents, while French residents spent twice as many nights as non-residents in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. Although these two regions and Île de France had the highest absolute number of nights spent by residents, the relative share of residents in the total number of nights spent was higher in two other French regions — Languedoc-Roussillon and Aquitaine — where in both cases the number of nights spent by French residents was 3.2 times as high as the number spent by non-residents. This pattern was repeated in Emilia-Romagna (Italy) where the number of nights spent by residents was 2.7 times as high as for non-residents and most notably in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (northern Germany) where the number of nights spent by residents was 25.3 times as high as for non-residents.The final part of Figure 3 presents the 10 regions with the highest number of nights spent by non-residents. As noted above, non-residents accounted for the vast majority (88.9 % in 2016) of the total nights spent in Canarias, the most popular regional destination in the EU. The relative weight of non-residents was even higher in Tirol (Austria; where non-residents accounted for 90.3 % of the total nights spent), Illes Balears (91.8 %) and Jadranska Hrvatska (93.7 %). These regions characterised by a high number and share of international tourists may face considerable pressures from sustainability issues, given that most non-resident tourists tend to travel during high/peak seasons — the summer months for coastal regions or the period between Christmas and Easter for Alpine regions.
Aside from coastal regions, the wide range of tourism opportunities in the EU extended to Alpine destinations and a number of popular cities
Map 1 confirms that tourism in the EU was concentrated in coastal regions (principally, but not exclusively, in the Mediterranean), Alpine regions, and some of the EU’s capital cities. There were 46 NUTS level 2 regions which recorded at least 15.0 million nights spent by residents and non-residents in tourist accommodation (as shown by the darkest shade), among which 20 regions recorded at least 30.0 million nights. These top 20 tourist destinations included six regions from Italy, five regions from each of Spain and France, two regions from Germany, and a single region from each of Croatia and Austria; note there is no recent information available for the United Kingdom. Within the top 20 most popular regions there were three capital city regions, namely those of Germany, France and Italy; based on historical data it is likely that they would have been joined by London (the United Kingdom).At the other end of the range there were 44 NUTS level 2 regions where fewer than 2.5 million nights were spent by residents and non-residents in tourist accommodation during 2016. These regions were widely dispersed across the EU and included several outermost regions, one of which was Mayotte (which had the lowest number of nights spent, at 0.1 million). Many of the regions with relatively low numbers of tourists could be characterised as rural regions (for example, in mainland Greece, southern Italy or eastern Poland). There were also low numbers of tourists in eight relatively densely populated regions across Belgium and the Netherlands (for example, Prov. Brabant Wallon or Groningen); this pattern may reflect, at least to some degree, the relatively short distances involved for resident tourists visiting these regions with preference being given to day-trips, rather than overnight stays.
The local economies of many island regions in the EU are heavily dependent on non-resident tourists
The analysis presented in Map 2 provides more detailed information concerning the relative importance of non-residents to regional tourism. In 2014, non-residents accounted for 45.1 % of the total number of nights spent in EU-28 tourist accommodation. These figures are in contrast to the results presented above in Figure 3, where non-residents were seen to account for a majority of the total nights spent in many of the EU’s most popular tourist regions. As such, the distribution was heavily skewed: in 2016, non-residents accounted for at least half of the total number of nights spent by all tourists in just 56 out of the 235 NUTS level 2 regions for which data are available.
In 2016, the relative importance of non-resident tourists was particularly high — over 90.0 % of the total number of nights spent in tourist accommodation — in six different NUTS level 2 regions of the EU, all but one of which were located around the Mediterranean. The relatively small, island region of Malta (one region at this level of detail) had the highest share of non-residents in its total number of nights spent in tourist accommodation (96.1 %) and was followed by two more island regions, namely, the Greek island of Kriti (95.5 %) and Cyprus (94.5 %; also one region at this level of detail); the two other regions in the Mediterranean included the Adriatic coastal and island region of Jadranska Hrvatska (Croatia) and Illes Balears (Spain), which includes the popular tourist destinations of Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza. The mountainous, western Austrian region of Tirol was the only non-coastal region in the EU where non-residents accounted for more than 9 out of every 10 nights spent in tourist accommodation.
The darkest shade in Map 2 shows those regions where non-residents accounted for at least three quarters of the total number of nights spent in tourist accommodation. Aside from the six regions mentioned above, there were 16 other regions which met this criterion in 2016, including: three island regions from Greece (Ionia Nisia, Notio Aigaio and Voreio Aigaio), the Spanish island region of Canarias, and the Portuguese island Região Autónoma da Madeira; the five capital city regions of the Czech Republic, Luxembourg (a single region at this level of detail), Hungary, Austria and Slovenia; the Bulgarian Black Sea coastal regions of Severoiztochen and Yugoiztochen, and the Portuguese coastal region of Algarve; as well as two more Alpine regions in Austria (Vorarlberg and Salzburg).By contrast, there were 16 regions across the EU where non-resident tourists accounted for less than 10.0 % of the total number of nights spent in tourist accommodation in 2016. A majority of these (nine regions) were located in Germany, including the region with the lowest share of non-resident tourists, namely, the northern Baltic Sea coastal region of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (3.8 %), while the next lowest shares among German regions were recorded in Chemnitz (5.6 %; an industrialised region in eastern Germany) and Weser-Ems (6.8 % which has a North Sea coastline and borders onto the Netherlands). Aside from these nine German regions, there were also very low shares of non-resident tourists nights in four Polish regions, three of which were in the south-eastern corner of the country, including Swietokrzyskie (to the north-east of Kraków) which had the second lowest share in the EU (4.5 %). There were also two regions from Romania (Sud-Est and Sud-Vest Oltenia) and a single region from Italy (Molise).
As well as being the third most popular tourist destination in the EU, the Adriatic coastal region of Jadranska Hrvatska also had one of the fastest growth rates for total number of nights spent
Map 3 presents an analysis for the average annual change in the total number of nights spent in tourist accommodation. Across the EU-28, the total number of nights spent by residents and non-residents rose, on average, by 1.7 % per annum between 2006 and 2014.
There were 29 NUTS level 2 regions where the total number of nights spent in tourist accommodation grew by at least 5.0 % per annum during the period 2006-2016 (as shown by the darkest shade of blue in the map). It is interesting to note that two of these fastest growing regions were also present in the top 10 ranking of the most popular tourist destinations in 2016, namely, Jadranska Hrvatska (Croatia; 7.7 % growth per annum) and Rhône-Alpes (France; 6.7 % per annum). Otherwise, the regions characterised by some of the fastest growth rates for nights spent in tourist accommodation were often located around the periphery of the EU, perhaps suggesting that tourists were seeking alternative destinations. The most rapid increases were recorded across Greece, Croatia, Poland and Portugal, while there was also high growth in the number of nights spent in the capital city regions of Bulgaria, Germany, Croatia, Lithuania (one region at this level of detail), Poland, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia.Approximately one in nine NUTS level 2 regions in the EU experienced an overall reduction in their total number of nights spent in tourist accommodation between 2006 and 2016 (as shown by the orange shade). In 14 of these 25 regions that experienced a decline in the number of nights spent, the reduction was less than 1.0 % per annum. However, there were eight regions in Germany — principally running in a band across the centre of the country — where the total number of nights spent in tourist accommodation fell by at least 1.0 % per annum; this was also the case in the Danish region of Sjælland and two Italian regions —Abruzzo and Molise — the latter recording the biggest contraction in the number of nights spent for any region in the EU (down 5.2 % per annum).
Bedroom occupancy rates
Approximately one third of the tourist accommodation in the EU-28 is composed of hotels and similar establishments. In 2014, there were 202 thousand hotels and similar establishments that provided a total of 6.6 million bedrooms and 13.7 million bed places, equivalent to an average of approximately 33 bedrooms and 68 bed places per establishment; note these average ratios per establishment are likely to be overstated as many national statistical authorities apply a threshold (for example, only collecting data from establishments with at least 10 bed places) to exclude the smallest establishments.
While a count of the total number of bed places may be of interest in relation to the capacity of different regions to respond to tourism demand, those providing accommodation services are more likely to be interested in net occupancy rates for bedrooms or beds. While hotels and similar establishments in prestigious or city-centre locations often need relatively high occupancy rates to remain financially viable, others may choose to close during the off-season in order to reduce variable costs, or alternatively seek to keep their occupancy rates high by providing special offers which may, for example, encourage pensioners (typically from northern and western EU Member States) to spend longer periods on vacation in warmer climates during the winter months.
Canarias — the most popular tourist destination in the EU — had the highest bedroom occupancy rate
Map 4 provides a regional analysis of bedroom occupancy rates in hotels and similar establishments for 2016. It reveals that of the 236 NUTS level 2 regions for which data are available, a majority (138) reported bedroom occupancy rates of at least 50 %, while there were 98 regions with rates below 50 %.
In 2016, the highest bedroom occupancy rate was recorded in Canarias (Spain), the most popular tourist destination in the EU. Looking at the remainder of the top 10 most popular tourist regions in the EU, there was only one other which featured among the 11 regions with the highest occupancy rates, namely, Illes Balears also in Spain. Aside from these two Spanish regions, the remaining regions where bedroom occupancy rates were at least 70.0 % (as shown by the darkest shade in the map) were often capital city regions, as was the case in the capital city regions of Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Malta (a single region at this level of detail), the Netherlands and Austria. The three other regions with high occupancy rates included the metropolitan region of Hamburg (Germany), the Black Sea coastal region of Yugoiztochen (Bulgaria) and the island Região Autónoma da Madeira (Portugal).At the other end of the range, there were 47 regions in the EU where the net occupancy rate for bedrooms was below 40 % in 2016 (as shown by the lightest shade of blue in Map 4). These were principally concentrated in southern and eastern regions of the EU and were often rural, inland regions. The lowest rate of 16.2 % was recorded in the northern Greek region of Dytiki Makedonia. The only regions in western and northern parts of the EU with bedroom occupancy rates that were less than 40 % were: Prov. Luxembourg (Belgium), Niederösterreich and Oberösterreich (both Austria) and Åland (Finland).
Source data for figures and maps
Eurostat’s tourism statistics consist of two main components: on the one hand, statistics relating to the 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.
Since the 2012 reference year, the legal basis for the collection of tourism statistics has been a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning European statistics on tourism ((EU) No 692/2011) and a European Commission implementing regulation ((EU) No 1051/2011).
Tourism statistics may be analysed according to the tourist’s country of residence (not the tourist’s citizenship). Domestic tourism covers the activities of residents who stay in their own country (but outside their usual environment) and this may be contrasted with the activities of international tourists (also referred to as inbound or non-resident tourists). Tourist accommodation establishments are local kind-of-activity units. They include all types of tourist accommodation providing, as a paid service, accommodation for tourists, regardless of whether or not the provision of tourist accommodation is the main or a secondary activity. These establishments are defined according to the activity classification, NACE, as units providing, short-term or short-stay accommodation services as a paid service:
- hotels and similar accommodation (NACE Group 55.1) — includes accommodation provided by hotels, resort hotels, suite/apartment hotels, motels;
- holiday and other short-stay accommodation (NACE Group 55.2) — includes holiday homes, visitor flats and bungalows, cottages and cabins without housekeeping services, youth hostels and mountain refuges;
- camping grounds, recreational vehicle parks and trailer parks (NACE Group 55.3) — includes the provision of accommodation in campgrounds, trailer parks, recreational camps, and fishing and hunting camps for short-stay visitors.
Regional tourism statistics are only available from suppliers of tourism services and are collected through surveys of tourist accommodation establishments. These surveys provide information that covers accommodation capacity (counts of establishments, rooms and bed places) and occupancy (the number of arrivals and nights spent/overnight stays): these data may be analysed by NUTS level 2 regions, by degree of urbanisation, and for coastal/non-coastal areas.
Note that there are a range of alternative sources that may be used to analyse tourism. These statistics include:
- short-term business statistics (STS) — monthly, quarterly and annual data providing indices for analysing developments in the tourism accommodation sector for turnover, production, employment, hours worked, wages and salaries and producer prices;
- structural business statistics (SBS) — annual data for analysing the economic performance of tourism-related economic activities;
- labour force survey (LFS) statistics — quarterly and annual data on employment in the tourism accommodation sector, with analyses by working time, working status, age, level of education, sex, or contract duration;
- balance of payments statistics — quarterly and annual data on personal and business travel receipts and expenditure; and,
- transport statistics — monthly, quarterly and annual data on air, maritime, rail and road passenger transport.
For more information:
The EU’s competence in the area of tourism is one of support and coordination in relation to the actions of the EU Member States. Policymakers seek to maintain Europe’s leading position as a tourist destination while supporting the contribution to growth and employment of tourism related activities.
A European Commission communication Europe, the world’s No. 1 tourist destination — a new political framework for tourism in Europe (COM(2010) 352 final) was adopted in June 2010. It provides a framework for the development of tourism within Europe, with four priority areas for action, namely to: stimulate competitiveness; promote sustainable and responsible tourism; consolidate Europe’s image as a collection of sustainable, high-quality destinations; maximise the potential of EU policies and financial instruments for developing tourism.
The European Commission has encouraged the diversification of Europe’s tourism offer through initiatives relating to maritime/coastal tourism, sustainable tourism, cultural tourism, tourism for all, accessible tourism, low-season tourism or collaborative tourism. It is providing considerable EU funding to tourism related activities during the period 2014-2020. Furthermore, the European Commission provides ad-hoc grants to the European Travel Commission (ETC), a non-profit organisation responsible for promoting Europe as an international tourist destination through reports, handbooks and websites (such as visiteurope.com).
To enhance the visibility of Europe as a tourist destination and increase international tourist arrivals, the European Commission undertakes a wide range of communication and promotion activities, among which 2018 has been pronounced the EU-China tourism year, which is seen as an opportunity to increase visitor numbers and investment, while encouraging EU and Chinese citizens to get to know each other. The EU’s main priorities include: supporting cooperative marketing campaigns that show Chinese visitors what the EU has to offer; helping domestic tourist industries to be ‘China-ready’; and facilitating business summits and contacts/meetings.
In its communication on maritime and coastal tourism A European strategy for more growth and jobs in coastal and maritime tourism (COM(2014) 86 final), the European Commission reflected on the diversity of the EU’s coastal regions and their capacity to generate wealth and jobs, in line with the EU’s Blue growth strategy — opportunities for marine and maritime sustainable growth (COM(2012) 494 final).
The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) supports the competitiveness and sustainability of tourism. While tourism is not directly mentioned among its thematic objectives, investments in tourism can be supported if they contribute towards investment priorities or wider development and growth strategies, for example, by:
- promoting less favoured and peripheral regions;
- connecting coastal regions to the hinterland, promoting greater and integrated regional development;
- introducing product and service innovations, through the uptake of information and communication technologies (ICT);
- supporting initiatives that extend the traditional tourism season, thereby stimulating the demand for additional employment;
- developing high value added niche markets in areas such as health tourism, environmentally-friendly tourism, gastronomic tourism, or sports tourism;
- addressing specific target groups, for example, the elderly through tourism initiatives in the ‘silver economy’.
- Regional tourism statistics (t_reg_tour)
- Tourism (t_tour), see:
- Annual data on tourism industries (t_tour_inda)
- Occupancy of tourist accommodation establishments (t_tour_occ)
- Nights spent at tourist accommodation establishments by NUTS 2 regions (tgs00111)
- Nights spent at tourist accommodation establishments by degree of urbanisation (from 2012 onwards) (tin00179)
- Capacity of tourist accommodation establishments (t_tour_cap)
- Number of establishments and bed-places by NUTS 2 regions (tgs00112)
- Number of bed-places by degree of urbanisation (from 2012 onwards) (tin00184)
- Occupancy of tourist accommodation establishments (t_tour_occ)
- Regional tourism statistics (reg_tour)
- Occupancy in collective accommodation establishments: domestic and inbound tourism (reg_tour_occ)
- Capacity of collective tourist accommodation: establishments, bedrooms and bed-places (reg_tour_cap)
- Tourism (tour), see:
- Annual data on tourism industries (inda)
- Occupancy of tourism accommodation establishments (tour_occ)
- Nights spent by residents and non-residents (tour_occ_n)
- Arrivals of residents and non-residents (tour_occ_a)
- Occupancy rates for hotels and similar accommodations (tour_occ_or)
- Occupancy of tourism accommodation establishments (tour_occ)
- Capacity of collective tourist accommodation establishments (tour_cap)
- Council Directive 95/57/EC of 23 November 1995 on the collection of statistical information in the field of tourism
- Regulation (EU) No 692/2011 of 6 July 2011 concerning European statistics on tourism and repealing Council Directive 95/57/EC
- Regulation (EU) No 1051/2011 of 20 October 2011 implementing Regulation (EU) No 692/2011 concerning European statistics on tourism, as regards the structure of the quality reports and the transmission of the data