Despite enduring challenges in the travel sector, pent-up demand for European travel remains strong, bolstered by Asia’s return to global tourism

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International air travel is expected to reach 80% of 2019 volumes in the first half of 2023, portending a continued resurgence of travel globally, according to travel intelligence firm ForwardKeys

International air travel is expected to reach 80% of 2019 volumes in the first half of 2023, portending a continued resurgence of travel globally, according to travel intelligence firm ForwardKeys

Juan Gómez, head of market intelligence at ForwardKeys, shared with Arival what the latest findings say about the outlook for Europe in advance of his session at Arival 360 | Berlin

Despite the challenges carrying over from 2022 such as geopolitical tensions, the global energy crisis and inflation driving rising costs and prices, “our latest data points to a brighter year ahead,” says Gómez. 

“Things keep changing a lot,” Gómez says. Based on data from sources such as flight searches and booking levels, he expects revenge travel and the release of pent-up demand to speed up recovery, bolstered by the return of Chinese travelers to the global market. 

Operator Takeaway: Travelers are returning to Europe, but the recovery continues to be uneven. The source markets driving the rebound are changing, as are traveler preferences for experiences. Check out Arival’s 2023 Experiences Traveler report to learn more. 

European Recovery Progressing Unevenly Across Regions

For Europe, the numbers are looking positive: in the first half of 2023, international arrivals will reach 90-95% of pre-pandemic booking levels for the same time period. 

However, the outlook varies regionally across Europe. “The southern European destinations will certainly be the ones capturing the most interest and managing to recover faster,” shares Gómez. Southern Europe is seeing the highest return of travelers from overseas and other parts of Europe, with destinations like Greece and Turkey benefiting greatly from the return of U.S. travelers. Up-and-coming places such as Croatia and Albania are also attracting travelers looking for “off-the-beaten-path” experiences. 

Southern Europe is attracting the highest return of travelers so far in 2023 | Photo: Aleksandar Pasaric / Pexels

Overall, even with booking levels returning to near 2019 levels, multiple factors are hampering a quicker recovery. In addition to economic and geo-political uncertainties, ever-changing travel restrictions are an enduring challenge, as are ongoing staffing shortages that challenge the industry’s ability to keep pace with demand.


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Asia Pacific’s 2023 Comeback Bodes Well for Travel

For Asia Pacific travel, “we expect that numbers start recovering quite rapidly from the second half of the year,” shares Gómez.

The re-opening of China will undoubtedly reshape and speed up the recovery.” However, it will take some time for Chinese travelers to have the “reassurance that they can travel to Europe.” Recent travel restrictions for incoming Chinese travelers by several countries in Europe have caused many Chinese travelers to second-guess travel to the region.

Another interesting development is the return of travelers from other parts of Asia, notably South Korea and Japan. Travelers from these markets are leading a resurgence for urban and shopping destinations in particular, which have lagged behind the nature, sun and sea destinations that performed better throughout the pandemic.

South Korean and Japanese travelers are leading a resurgence for urban and shopping destinations in Europe | Photo: Angelos Lamprakopoulos / Pexels

The Post-Pandemic Experiences Traveler

With travelers returning to Europe in greater numbers, Gómez alludes to the fact that these are not the same travelers as before. For operators in Europe and globally to successfully attract travelers post-pandemic, there are important changes to traveler preferences to adapt to.

In addition, savvy operators should anticipate and prepare for travelers coming from different places than before. “Things have changed,” shares Gómez, “if you’ve never attracted Chinese travelers, get your website translated as soon as possible and be ready for their comeback, because it’s going to be massive.”

More travelers are returning to Europe — but who are they, and how can you attract them? | Photo: Airam Dato-on / Pexels

At Arival 360 | Berlin in March 2023, ForwardKeys’ Juan Gómez will be delivering a keynote presentation on the latest data about the status of travel’s recovery for the tours, activities and attractions sector in Europe, as well as digging into the different profiles and preferences of the post-pandemic traveler.

Juan Gomez
Head of Market Intelligence

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