The European giant tourism sector in constant growth

José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission (in the rostrum), went to Berlin, where he participated in the 17th Tourism Summit (Tourismusgipfel). In his speech, the President reminded of the mutually beneficial effects of tourism and European integration, and underlined in particular the importance of the four freedoms of the Single Market for a flourishing tourism sector. (EC Audiovisual Services 02/12/2013).

José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission (in the rostrum), went to Berlin, where he participated in the 17th Tourism Summit (Tourismusgipfel). In his speech, the President reminded of the mutually beneficial effects of tourism and European integration, and underlined in particular the importance of the four freedoms of the Single Market for a flourishing tourism sector. (EC Audiovisual Services 02/12/2013).

The tourism industry is undoubtedly a flourishing sector of the EU economy. However it suffers of an increased sensitivity to events like the 11 September 2001 catastrophe, which can harm its potential on a global scale. Even an airplane accident can undermine its activities for a long time. That’s why it is considered as a non-quite resilient source of income and employment, like, for example, manufacturing. In any case it offers a huge and robust supply of millions of jobs all over the EU. According to Eurostat, the EU statistical service, the activities of the EU tourism sector has been steadily increasing after the above mentioned unprecedented events in New York, with a two years negative interval, during the peak of the financial crisis period of 2008-2009.

Last year, the basic variable measuring the sector’s activities, ‘nights spent in tourist accommodation’, marked another all-time record, with 2.6 billon nights, or 1.6% more than during the preceding year. The heavyweights of the industry are France (405 million nights, +1.1% compared with 2012), Spain (387mn, +1%), Italy (363mn, -4.6%), Germany (355mn, +1.3%) and the United Kingdom (320mn, +6.5%). These five member states accounted for 70% of the total number of nights spent in tourist accommodation establishments in the EU28.

Sun and sea

In south Eurozone countries Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal tourism is a major source of income and employment. In Greece more that 15% of the GDP is produced in the tourist sector. According to Eurostat the number of nights spent in tourist accommodation establishments in 2013 increased in “nearly all Member States, for which data are available, except for Italy (-4.6%), Cyprus (-3.7%), the Czech Republic (-1.2%), Finland (-0.7%) and Belgium (-0.5%). The largest increases were recorded in Greece (+11.7%), Malta (+7.8%), Latvia (+7.3%), the United Kingdom (+6.5%), Bulgaria (+6.2%), Slovakia (+5.5%) and Hungary (+5.0%)”.

A crucial parameter which may characterise a country as a major tourist destination is ‘nights spent by non-residents’. Around 45% of all nights spent in EU tourist accommodation establishments last year are attributed to non-residents of the country in question. According to Eurostat, the EU champions in this respect were “the two Mediterranean islands, Malta (96%) and Cyprus (93%), the highest shares of nights spent by non-residents were registered in Croatia (92%), Greece (79%), Austria (71%) and Latvia (70%), and the lowest in Romania (18%), Germany and Poland (both 20%) and Sweden (23%)”.

Non-resident tourists

Of course the bulk of ‘nights spent by non-residents’ has to be attributed to the summer movement of populations, heading from the north of the EU to the south. During the holiday season, from May to September and for a brief time of one or two weeks almost the entire population of countries in the misty and grey north countries travel southwards to the sea and sun. This massive move of people helps revive the sleepy during the winter sea-side resort towns and villages in the seaside resorts. As the European Sting writer Suzan A. Kane observed on 16 April 2013, “In this way the sun thirsty northerners create millions of jobs in the recession stricken regions of Spain, Italy, Greece and Cyprus, but also in mega tourist destinations like Paris, London, Rome and Berlin”.

Despite the fact that there is strong competition all around the Mediterranean, between EU and non EU countries, over the summer holiday market, it seems that the south European countries are winning the battle. Of course this is also a side effect of the political and military turbulence in North Africa and the Middle East. This fact underlines the observation above, about the volatile character of the tourist industry, being susceptible to unexpected developments. In any case the European tourism industry is a huge sector, with no parallel in the entire world. Naturally there are other destinations competing strongly, especially in the ‘sun and see’ segment of the market, but the South of Europe and the Mediterranean islands are world champions.

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