Seasonality in the tourist accommodation sector

From Statistics Explained

Data from July 2014. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: March 2015

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 as well as the seasonality of the turnover and the employment in this specific 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.

Figure 1: Monthly distribution of the total number of arrivals and nights spent at tourist accommodation establishments, EU-28, 2012, (%)
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim) (tour_occ_arm)
Table 1: Nights spent at tourist accommodation establishments, distribution per month, 2012
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim)
Figure 2a: Monthly distribution of nights spent in tourist accommodation establishments (countries with high seasonality), 2012, (%)
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim)
Figure 2b: Monthly distribution of nights spent in tourist accommodation establishments (countries with low seasonality, summer peak only), 2012, (%)
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim)
Figure 2c: Monthly distribution of nights spent in tourist accommodation establishments (bimodal pattern with summer and winter peak), 2012, (%)
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim)
Table 2: Seasonal variation in occupancy of tourist accommodation establishments, 2012 (Thousands)
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim)
Table 3: Share of tourism nights spent in tourist accommodation establishments during the busiest and the slowest months of the year, 2012
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim)
Table 4: Nights spent at tourist accommodation establishments by type of accommodation and quarter, 2012, (%)
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim)
Figure 3: Monthly distribution of the total nights spent in tourist accommodation establishments by type of accommodation, 2012, EU-28, (%)
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim)
Figure 4: Monthly distribution of the total nights spent in tourist accommodation establishments by country of origin of the guest (resident/non-resident), 2012, EU-28 (Millions)
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim)
Table 5: Nights spent at tourist accommodation establishments by origin of the guest and quarter, 2012, (%)
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim)
Figure 5: Monthly working day adjusted turnover for NACE division I55 and monthly nights spent at tourist accommodation establishments (NACE classes 55.10 to 55.30) (index=average for 2010), EU-28
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim) (sts_setu_m)
Figure 6: Seasonal variation(1) in occupancy of tourist accommodation establishments and employment (by sector), 2012, EU-28
Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_nim) (tour_lfs1r2)

Main statistical findings

Nights spent

July and August account for one third of all annual nights spent at tourist accommodation establishments in the EU

The tourist accommodation sector experiences strong seasonal fluctuations. Nearly one in three nights spent in tourist accommodation establishments during 2012 was recorded in July or August. However, the turnover and the number of persons employed in this industry appear to vary less.

Tourist accommodation sector

Seasonal fluctuations were particularly high in the tourist accommodation sector where 33.1 % of annual nights spent were recorded in the two peak months, July and August

The monthly accommodation statistics for 2012 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 was a bit more evenly spread over the year than the number of nights spent, 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 (33.1 %) of all nights spent in tourist accommodation in 2012. The period from June to September represented more than half (53.6 %) of all nights spent during the year (see also Figure 3).

At country level

In the Alpine countries Austria 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 nine countries with the highest seasonal variation in 2012 (Montenegro, Croatia, Bulgaria, Greece, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, France and Cyprus) 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 Denmark and Sweden, 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 relatively low. Montenegro, Croatia and Greece reported the biggest slowdowns during the winter season.

A particular phenomenon leading to lower seasonality was observed in the Alpine countries Austria 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. 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-28, 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 (January). Using this measure, the countries with the highest seasonality were Montenegro and Croatia. In Montenegro, more than 3.6 million nights spent were recorded in August, 75 times more than the 48 000 nights spent in December. In Croatia, more than 20.5 million nights spent were recorded in the peak month, while just 277 000 nights spent were recorded in February. 33.0 % of all nights spent in Croatia were recorded in August - the highest monthly share in the EU in 2012. The third highest ratio was found in Greece, where the number of nights spent in the peak month (July) exceeded that of the slowest month (December) by a factor of 16.3. In the European Union, below average (under 3) seasonality ratios were found in Finland (2.3), Slovakia (2.4), Czech Republic (2.5), Germany (2.6), Latvia (2.7), Estonia (2.8), Poland and Lithuania (both at 2.9).

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-28 level, the peak months of July and August accounted for 33 % of nights spent in tourist accommodation. At the other end, the slowest months (November and January) represented less than 10 % of the annual nights spent. The two peak months were most pronounced in Montenegro (65 %), Croatia (63 %), Bulgaria (48 %) and Greece (44 %) while the two slowest months were least significant in those countries as well and in Cyprus.

In all EU Member States, the peak months for the tourist accommodation sector were July and August, except in Austria (February and August).

By accommodation 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 2012, seasonal fluctuations were less prominent for hotels and similar establishments than for other tourist accommodation (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, Cyprus and Romania, the peak for the hotels (37 % in the third quarter, on average for the EU) was lower than the peak for both other types of tourist accommodation (45 % for holiday and other short-stay accommodation and 70 % for campsites in the third quarter, on average for the EU).

In only four countries, hotels and similar establishments had to rely on the third quarter for more than half of their overnight stays: Montenegro (64 %), Bulgaria (59 %), Croatia (58 %) and Greece (55 %). Establishments active in other segments of the accommodation sector had a much higher peak in the period July to September. In seven countries, more than 80 % of all overnight stays in campsites were in the third quarter: Montenegro (94 %), Slovakia and Serbia (both at 88 %), Denmark, France and Poland (all three at 84 %) and Greece (83 %).

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 accommodation but also in holiday and other short-stay accommodation in the first quarter outnumbered the traditional peak quarter, the third quarter.

The monthly distribution broken down by type of accommodation (see Figure 3) indicates that the summer peak is partly related to higher seasonality for accommodation other than hotels and similar establishments, mainly campsites, which depend much more 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 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-28), 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, the share of nights spent by residents (out of the total number of nights spent during the year) recorded in the third quarter was comparable to the European average, while 66 % of all nights spent by non-residents were recorded in the third quarter. In Greece, France, Croatia and Italy 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, 52 % of all nights spent by residents was recorded during the third quarter (but note that the domestic market accounted for only 7 % of the Cypriot accommodation sector in 2012).

Turnover of short-stay accommodation

Seasonality of the turnover in accommodation correlates well with the occupancy

Short-term business statistics provide monthly and quarterly indices for the sector of short-stay accommodation for visitors and other travellers (NACE division I55).

Figure 5 shows for the EU-28 the monthly evolution for the nights spent in tourist accommodation establishments (NACE classes I55.1, I55.2 and I55.3) and the working days adjusted turnover for accommodation (NACE division I55 – note that this also includes the very small NACE class I55.9). The seasonality of the nights spent was more pronounced, which could partly be explained by the fact that during the peak season – often overlapping with school holidays – the occupancy of bed places will be relatively higher than the bedroom occupancy as compared to the low season (e.g. families versus business travellers). For turnover, the determining factor will rather be the number of rooms rented out than the number of bed places used.

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 seasonal fluctuations in the occupancy (i.e. nights spent) of tourist accommodation establishments and in the turnover of the short-stay accommodation sector. This final section takes a look at the effects of seasonality on employment in the accommodation sector.

Using data from the European Labour force survey, Figure 6 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 73 % higher than the annual average while employment was only 10 % 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 7 % below the annual average. Since the data refers to the number of persons employed (not full-time equivalents), it was not possible to analyse the effect of different working time patterns according to the season.

Data sources and availability

Regulation 692/2011 concerning European statistics on 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 bedplaces and bedrooms (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 one overnight stay during the reference period. 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.

Context

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.

See also

Further Eurostat information

Publications

Main tables

Database

Dedicated section

Source data for tables and figures on this page (MS Excel)

Methodology / Metadata

Other information

  • 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.

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