Seasonality in the tourist accommodation sector
From Statistics Explained
- Data from July 2010, most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.
This article focuses on the tourist accommodation sector in the European Union (EU) and looks at the seasonality of arrivals and nights spent in accommodation establishments and of the employment in this tourism industry.
This analysis from the point of view of the supply side complements another article on seasonality in tourism demand in which the seasonal bias in tourism demand is discussed.
Main statistical findings
July and August account for one third of all annual nights spent in accommodation establishments in the EU
The tourist accommodation sector experiences strong seasonal fluctuations. Nearly one in three nights spent in tourist accommodation establishments during 2009 was recorded in July or August. However, the number of persons employed in this industry appears to vary less.
Tourist accomodation sector
Seasonal fluctuations were particularly high in the tourist accommodation sector where 33.2 % of annual nights spent away were recorded in the two peak months, July and August
The monthly accommodation statistics for 2009 showed a significant seasonal bias for arrivals and number of nights spent in tourist accommodation (see Figure 1 and Table 1). The number of arrivals were a bit more evenly spread over the year than the number of nights spent away, mainly due to the concentration of longer stays in July and August. Both figures peaked in August. The number of arrivals in the peak month was 2.6 times higher than the number of arrivals in the slowest month (January) while the number of nights spent was 3.8 times higher in the peak month than in the slowest month (again January). In terms of nights spent, the two summer months accounted for one third (33.2 %) of all nights spent in tourist accommodation in 2009. The period from June to September represented more than half (53.1 %) of all nights spent away during the year (see also Figure 3).
Seasonality in tourism seemed to be much higher from a supply side perspective (i.e. using accommodation statistics) than from the demand side perspective (see article "Seasonality in tourism demand"). While the first — by definition —includes only tourism flows into (paid) tourist accommodation, the latter also includes trips where the accommodation was not paid for, such as stays with relatives and friends or stays at owned dwellings (e.g. second residences). These types of trips may be more frequent or regular and therefore less concentrated in the busiest tourism months of the year.
At Member State level
In the Alpine countries Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, the seasonal pattern was smoothened as these countries have a second peak season in winter
The overall situation at EU level shown in Figure 1 aggregates data from countries with a very different seasonal profile. For each country, the monthly share in the annual number of nights spent in tourist accommodation is listed in Table 1. The average of the absolute deviations of monthly data points from their mean can be used to measure seasonal variation. It gives an idea of how much the monthly figures deviate from even distribution (i.e. a perfectly even spread of nights spent away over the 12 months of the year).
The eight countries with the highest seasonal variation in 2009 overlap with the set of countries where at least one month took up a share of more than 20 % of the annual nights spent (see Figure 2a), except Cyprus. This group included typical Mediterranean destinations and Scandinavian countries (namely Sweden and Denmark, who both had a particularly high peak in July). However, there was no absolute geographical rule since other countries located in this region showed a much lower seasonal variation.
To put the seasonal pattern of this group in perspective, Figure 2b shows the countries with the lowest seasonal variation. This group included Malta, while the other Mediterranean island state Cyprus showed a more pronounced seasonal pattern. When comparing the monthly series for these two Member States, they both seemed to have a very important summer season, but the slowdown during the winter was much more pronounced in Cyprus than in Malta (see Table 1). While activity in the winter months for the Maltese accommodation sector was comparable to the European average, the winter scores for Cyprus were the lowest, together with Greece and Croatia.
A particular phenomenon leading to lower seasonality was observed in the Alpine countries Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. When looking at the months with a share above the expected share if the distribution were even (i.e. each month has a share of 8.3 % — or 1/12th of the annual total), these countries appeared to have higher figures in two separate periods of the year. In addition to a peak season during the summer months, these countries had a second peak season during the winter months. To a lesser extent, a similar phenomenon was recorded for Finland and Slovakia. This double peak pattern is clearly depicted in Figure 2c. In Belgium, a second peak season (or local high) was observed during the spring months April and May (followed by a slowdown in June before the summer peak).
Another way to evaluate seasonality is to look at the difference between the peak and the trough months (see Table 2).
On average for the EU-27, this ratio was 3.8. This means that occupancy (in nights spent) of accommodation establishments was nearly 4 times higher in the peak month (August) than in the trough month (November). Using this measure, the countries with the highest seasonality were again Greece and Croatia. In Greece, more than 13 million nights spent were recorded in the peak month August, while just under 1 million nights spent were recorded in January. In Croatia, more than 10 million nights spent away were recorded in August, 35 times more than the 300 000 nights spent in December. The third highest ratio was found in Denmark, where the number of nights spent in the peak month exceeded that of the slowest month by a factor of 9.3. In Denmark, 23.9 % of all nights spent were recorded in July — the highest monthly share in the EU in 2009. In the European Union, below average (under 3) seasonality ratios were found in Latvia (2.4), Finland (2.5), Germany (2.7), Estonia (2.8) and Slovakia (2.9). The winter season peak also narrowed the deviation between the peak and trough months in Liechtenstein (2.3) and Switzerland (2.5).
A similar approach is used in Table 3. However, here the period of observation is extended to the two peak and two slowest months. At EU-27 level, the peak months of July and August accounted for 33 % of nights away in tourist accommodation. At the other end, the slowest months (November and January) represented less than 10 % of the annual nights spent away. The two peak months were most pronounced in Bulgaria (43 %), France (42 %), Greece (41 %) and Italy (40 %) while the two slowest months were least significant in Greece (3 %), Cyprus (5 %), Bulgaria and Denmark (6 %). Again, an exceptionally high seasonal influence was observed in Croatia where July and August represented more than half (54 %) of all nights away and February and December each represented less than 1 % (see also Table 1).
In all EU Member States, the peak months for the tourist accommodation sector were July and August, except in Austria (February and August) and Finland (June and July).
By accomodation type
Seasonality in the tourist accommodation sector was less pronounced for establishments operated as a hotel than for other types of establishments
In the previous sections, the tourist accommodation sector was analysed as a whole. A breakdown by type of accommodation reveals that in 2009, seasonal fluctuations were less prominent for hotels and similar establishments than for other tourist accommodation such as campsites (see Table 4 and Figure 3). For ease of presentation, the monthly data is grouped per quarter in Table 4. In all countries except Malta, the peak for the hotels (37 % in the third quarter, on average for the EU) was lower than the peak for other types of tourist accommodation (56 % in the third quarter, on average for the EU). In only three countries, hotels and similar establishments had to rely on the third quarter for more than half of their overnight stays: Bulgaria (54 %), Greece (55 %) and Croatia (57 %). Establishments active in other segments of the accommodation sector had a much higher peak in the period July to September.
The double peak pattern for Austria is also reflected in the data in Table 4, showing that the number of nights spent in hotels and similar establishments in the first quarter (32 % of the annual total) outnumbered the traditional peak quarter, the third quarter (31 %). The monthly distribution broken down by type of accommodation (see Figure 3) indicates that the summer peak could be partly related to higher seasonality for other tourist accommodation. This subsector includes tourist campsites, which depend more much on the weather (and are often closed in winter). However, the seasonal bias for hotels and similar establishments was most probably smoothened by overnight business travel.
Residents versus non-residents
Nights spent away by residents in tourist accommodation were more concentrated in July and August than travel by non-residents
Domestic travellers appeared to be the main contributors to the peak in nights spent in tourist accommodation in July and August (see Figure 4). In the other months of the year, the figures for residents and non-residents were comparable.
Schemes to encourage domestic holiday makers to travel in the low season could reduce the seasonal bias in the tourist accommodation sector. However, although the domestic market may be easier to reach (from a marketing and tourism policy point of view), the importance of school holidays and production downtime in certain sectors of the economy cannot be ignored as key factors in planning holidays.
In Figure 4, the number of nights spent away by residents peaked clearly in July and August, and dipped in September. Over a three-month period, the seasonal effects were slightly smoothened by grouping peak months and more ‘normal’ months.
At aggregate level (EU-27), the distribution of nights spent away by residents and non-resident broadly followed the same pattern (Table 5). In the countries identified earlier as having a strong seasonal bias in the accommodation sector, there were differences between the numbers of resident and foreign guests. In Bulgaria, Denmark, Greece and Croatia, the share of nights spent by residents (out of the total number of nights away during the year) recorded in the third quarter was comparable to the European average, while more than half of all nights spent away by non-residents were recorded in the third quarter. In Italy and France, both the share of nights spent by residents and non-residents was much higher in the third quarter compared to the rest of Europe. In Cyprus, 55 % of all nights spent by residents was recorded during the third quarter (but note that the domestic market accounted for only 10 % of the Cypriot accommodation sector in 2009).
Relationship with employment
The strong seasonal variation in activity of the accommodation sector was only partially reflected in the quarterly employment figures
We have seen major seasonal fluctuations in the occupancy (i.e. nights spent away) of accommodation establishments. This final chapter takes a look at the effects of seasonality on employment in the accommodation sector.
Using data from the European Labour force survey, Figure 5 indicates that there was a much stronger seasonal bias in the accommodation sector than in the entire HORECA (hotel, restaurant and catering) sector. In the economy as a whole, seasonal fluctuation was very limited, but this aggregate figure of course hides strong seasonal variations in certain branches of the economy.
Nevertheless, seasonality in employment was much less pronounced than economic output (in terms of nights spent away). In the peak season (third quarter), occupancy in accommodation establishments was 72 % higher than the annual average while employment was only 11 % higher in this quarter compared to the annual average. Although occupancy was 40 % lower in the first quarter than the annual average, employment was only 8 % below the annual average. Since the data refers to the number of persons employed, it was not possible to analyse the effect of different working time patterns according to the season.
Data sources and availability
Directive 95/57/EC on the collection of statistical information in the field of tourism organises the European Statistical System of tourism statistics. This system consists of two main components: statistics on capacity and occupancy of tourist accommodation and statistics on tourism demand. The former are collected in most Member States via surveys filled in by accommodation establishments, while the latter are mostly collected by means of traveller surveys at the border or via traditional household surveys.
Statistics on the occupancy of tourist accommodation refer to the number of arrivals (at accommodation establishments) and the number of nights spent by residents and non-residents, broken down by type of establishment or by region. Both annual and monthly series are available. Statistics on the use of beds (occupancy rates) are also compiled.
Statistics on the demand for tourism look at participation, i.e. the number of residents that make at least one trip of at least four overnight stays during the reference period (quarter, year). They also look at the number of tourism trips made (and the number of nights spent on those trips), broken down by tourism-related variables such as country of destination, month of departure, length of stay, type of organisation of the trip, mode of transport, type of accommodation or expenditure, and by socio-demographic variables, such as age or gender. Annual and quarterly series are available.
In June 2010, the European Commission released a Communication entitled "Europe, the world's No 1 tourist destination - a new political framework for tourism in Europe". One of the challenges and opportunities facing the European tourism industry is the seasonal distribution of demand for tourism. Better use of existing tourist infrastructure and staff in the low season could help businesses improve their productivity and benefit from a more stable and motivated workforce. Extending the tourism season or spreading tourism activities more evenly throughout the year can significantly boost the sustainability and competitiveness of European tourist destinations.
Further Eurostat information
- Europeans take 46% of their holidays in the third quarter of the year
- July and August account for one third of all annual nights spent in accommodation establishments in the EU
- Hotels and similar establishments (tin00039)
- Other collective accommodation establishments (tin00040)
- Bed places in hotels and similar establishments (tin00041)
- Bed places in other collective accommodation establishments (tin00042)
- Arrivals in hotels and similar establishments (tin00047)
- Arrivals in other collective accommodation establishments (tin00048)
- Nights spent in hotels and similar establishments (tin00043)
- Nights spent in other collective accommodation establishments (tin00044)
- Tourists (tin00045)
- Trips (tin00046)
- Capacity of collective tourist accommodation : establishments, bedrooms and bedplaces (tour_cap)
- Number of establishments, bedrooms and bedplaces - national - annual data (tour_cap_nat)
- Number of establishments, bedrooms and bedplaces - NUTS 1 - annual data (tour_cap_nuts1)
- Number of establishments, bedrooms and bedplaces - NUTS 2 - annual data (tour_cap_nuts2)
- Number of establishments, bedrooms and bedplaces - NUTS 3 - annual data (tour_cap_nuts3)
- Bed-places (x1000) (tour_cap_bed)
- Occupancy in collective accommodation establishments : domestic and inbound tourism (tour_occ)
- Arrivals of residents and non-residents (tour_occ_a)
- Nights spent by residents and non-residents (tour_occ_n)
- Monthly use of bedplaces (tour_occ_ub)
- Tourism demand : domestic and outbound tourism (excluding day-trips) (tour_dem)
- Number of tourists (tour_dem_to)
- Number of tourism trips (tour_dem_tt)
- Number of tourism nights (tour_dem_tn)
- Expenditure on tourism trips (tour_dem_ex)
- Employment in the tourism sector (Source: Labour Force Survey 'LFS') (tour_lfs)
- Employed persons by full-time / part-time activity (tour_lfs1)
- Employed persons by age groups (tour_lfs2)
- Employed persons by level of education attained (tour_lfs3)
- Permanency of job (permanent or temporary) (tour_lfs4)
- Average seniority of work with the same employer (tour_lfs5)
- Employed persons and employees by sex and full-time/part-time activity (tour_lfs6)
Source data for tables, figures and maps on this page (MS Excel)
- Capacity of collective tourist accommodation; establishments, bedrooms and bedplaces (ESMS metadata file - tour_cap_esms)
- With 2012 as reference year:
- Regulation (EU) No 692/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 July 2011 concerning European statistics on tourism and repealing Council Directive 95/57/EC.
- Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 1051/2011 of 20 October 2011 implementing Regulation (EU) No 692/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning European statistics on tourism, as regards the structure of the quality reports and the transmission of the data.
- Previous legal acts (concerning reference periods before 2012):
- Directive 95/57/EC of 23 November 1995 on the collection of statistical information in the field of tourism.
- Commission Decision 1999/35/CE of 9 December 1998 on the procedures for implementing Council Directive 95/57/EC on the collection of statistical information in the field of tourism.
- Commission Decision 2004/883/CE of 10 December 2004 adjusting the Annex to Council Directive 95/57/EC on the collection of statistical information in the field of tourism as regards country lists.
- Directive 2006/110/EC of 20 November 2006 adapting Directives 95/57/EC and 2001/109/EC in the field of statistics, by reason of the accession of Bulgaria and Romania.
- Agenda for a sustainable and competitive European tourism (Communication from the European Commission, October 2007)
- European Commission - Enterprise and Industry - Supporting European tourism