Seasonality in tourism demand
From Statistics Explained
- Data from July 2010, most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.
This article focuses on the seasonal pattern of tourism demand in the European Union (EU), participation in tourism by EU residents, the trips they made and the number of nights spent on those trips. Tourism demand includes all trips made, regardless of whether they were spent in tourist accommodation (such as hotels or campsites) or in less formal and often unpaid types of accommodation (such as owned dwellings or accommodation provided for free by friends of relatives).
This analysis from the point of view of the demand side complements another article on seasonality in the tourist accommodation sector in which the seasonal bias in the supply by the tourist accommodation sector is discussed.
Main statistical findings
Overall seasonal pattern
Europeans take 46% of their holidays in the third quarter of the year
In 2009, tourism demand was concentrated in the third quarter, with more than one in three holiday trips made in July, August or September. When taking into account the duration of the trips, the seasonal pattern was even more pronounced, with EU residents spending 46 % of all nights away on holiday in the third quarter of 2009. Short holiday trips, domestic holidays and business trips tended to smoothen the seasonality of tourism demand. The increasing popularity of short trips slightly reduced the seasonal bias in the period 2004-2009.
Proportion of population on holiday
Almost half of the EU population went on holiday in the 3rd quarter of 2009
During the third quarter of 2009, nearly half (48 %) of all EU residents went on holiday at least once with at least one overnight stay (see Table 1). During the other three quarters of the year, far fewer EU residents went on holiday, ranging from around one in four to one in three persons. In all countries, the period July-September was the most popular time to go on holiday. The biggest infra-annual variation was observed in Cyprus, where 83 % of the population went on holiday in the third quarter of 2009 and only 16 % or less travelled at other times of the year.
When looking at holidays of at least 4 nights, the share of the population that travelled during the third quarter (35 %) was almost double that during the second quarter (19 %). During the first and fourth quarter of 2009, only 13 % of the population went on holiday for at least 4 nights.
Length of holidays
More than one in three holidays took place during the third quarter. In terms of nights spent away, 46 % were in the third quarter of 2009, with an even stronger bias for long trips
While the previous section focused on participation in tourism, i.e. the share of the population that went on holiday at least once during the reference quarter, this section takes a closer look at the time people spend on holiday and the number of nights they spent away.
The number of trips made by EU residents in the first and the last quarter of 2009 were both around 20 % of the total number of annual trips (see Figure 1a and the left part of Table 2). With some differences, this conclusion holds for all Member States. Only in Cyprus did the first and last quarter account for less than 10 % of trips. In the second quarter — largely overlapping with the spring and in many countries with Easter — a slightly higher number of trips was recorded compared to the first and last quarter. On average across the EU, 26 % of holidays were taken in this quarter. Unsurprisingly, the third quarter was the most popular period for going on holiday. More than one in three (34 %) holiday trips in 2009 was made in July, August or September. When looking at the highest average absolute difference between the four quarterly figures and the average over the quarters, the strongest seasonal pattern in tourism demand was observed in Cyprus, where 70 % of all holiday trips were made in the third quarter. This quarter was also particularly popular for Greek and Slovenian tourists (both 45 %) and for Italian and Bulgarian tourists (both 43 %). The least pronounced seasonal pattern was recorded for German tourists, who showed the most equal spread over the four quarters of the year: 21 %, 25 %, 29 % and 25 %. Residents of Ireland, Sweden, Finland and Spain also tended to spread their holiday trips over the year more evenly.
An analysis of the seasonal pattern of the number of nights spent on holiday — in other words the length of trips — shows a similar but more pronounced distribution (see Figure 1b and the right part of Table 2). While 34% of all trips were made in the third quarter, the number of nights spent on holiday in the third quarter accounted for 46 % of the total in 2009. This means a longer average duration of trips (see Table 3). The average trip made in the first, second and fourth quarter lasted 4 to 5 days (nights), in the third quarter this rose to slightly over a week (7.4 overnight stays for holidays taken by EU residents).
Only one Member State recorded more than half of its holiday trips during the third quarter (Cyprus, 70 %), but residents of eight Member States spent more than half of their holiday nights away during the third quarter. The highest seasonal peak in terms of the third quarter’s share in nights spent on holiday was observed in Greece (67 %), Italy (63 %) and Slovenia (59 %). Again, the seasonal pattern was less pronounced in the quarterly number of nights spent away by German, Swedish and Finnish tourists. Unsurprisingly, the latter two countries also recorded the highest number of holiday trips per person (7 trips per year in Finland, 5 trips per year in Sweden). In other words, and as one could expect, more trips per person resulted in a more even spread of the trips throughout the year.
When looking at the breakdown by duration of trips (see Figures 2 and Table 4), short trips of 1 to 3 overnight stays were distributed more evenly over the year compared to longer trips of at least 4 overnight stays. Contrary to the general conclusions above, the second quarter was the most popular for taking short trips (28 % of all short holiday trips on average for the EU, compared to 27 % for the third quarter).
In 9 Member States, short holiday trips in "spring" outnumbered short trips in the main summer season. French, Dutch and Portuguese tourists made more than 30 % of their short holiday trips in the second quarter. Again, Cyprus showed the strongest seasonal bias with 85 % of short trips taken in July, August and September. However, for long holiday trips, 44 % of the annual number of long trips made by EU residents was taken in the third quarter, by far the preferred season for making long trips. In all countries, the third quarter was the top season for going on holiday. In 8 EU Member States, at least half of long holiday trips were taken in the third quarter, rising to 60% or more in Greece and Slovenia.
Domestic versus abroad
Only in the third quarter, the share of trips abroad exceeded 25 % of the total
In 2009, EU residents made over 790 000 holiday trips in their own Member States (domestic holiday trips) and nearly 245 000 holiday trips abroad (see Table 5). The spread of domestic and trips abroad over the four quarters of the year is relatively comparable, with a slightly stronger seasonal pattern for trips abroad (see Figures 3a and 3b). The number of domestic holidays taken during the peak quarter (the third quarter) exceeded the number taken in the trough quarter (the first quarter) by 78 % and the number of holiday trips abroad more than doubled in the peak quarter compared to the trough quarter.
On average over the year, holidays abroad accounted for 23.7 % of all holiday trips. At quarterly level, the share exceeded 25 % only in the third quarter (see Figure 3c).
People tended to take longer holidays during the third quarter (see also Table 3), due most likely to periods of annual leave or school holidays. Given the fixed costs of transportation, it is unsurprising that the season during which trips were the longest is also the most popular season for going on trips abroad.
Holiday patterns in Europe differed widely in 2009. In a number of countries, the number of trips during the peak season was more than twice the number of trips in the trough quarter, both for domestic and foreign trips. This was the case in Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland. In other countries, such as Ireland, Finland, Sweden and (to a lesser extent) Germany, the seasonal bias was relatively small for both types of destination.
In a group of countries, the seasonal pattern for domestic trips was low compared to other countries but there were strong seasonal fluctuations for trips abroad made by residents. This was especially so in Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia, but also in the Czech Republic and Austria, the difference between the third and the first quarter was twice as high for trips abroad than for domestic trips. The opposite happened in Estonia and Croatia, where the pattern of holidays abroad was relatively evenly spread across the year but fluctuated more for domestic holiday trips.
The data do not show a link between the importance of tourism abroad and seasonality of this type of holiday. For nearly all countries where trips abroad accounted for 10 % or less of the total number of holiday trips made in 2009 (Bulgaria, Greece, Spain, France, Portugal and Romania) the seasonal pattern of trips abroad did not differ much from the EU average. The only exception was Romania, where half of all holiday trips abroad were made during the third quarter (the second highest figure in the EU, after Slovenia).
Business trips showed a less pronounced seasonal pattern and tended to partly compensate for the peak and trough periods
Although reliable statistics on business trips broken down by quarter are not available for all Member States, Figures 4a and 4b give an illustration at aggregate level of the 27 Member States of the European Union. Business trips were spread more evenly over the year than holiday trips, with a seasonal variation ranging from just over 43 million business trips in the third quarter, or 23 % of the annual total, to just under 48 million business trips in the second quarter, or 26 % of the annual total (EU-27 data, excluding the Netherlands and Malta).
On average over the year, business trips represented around 15 % of all trips made by EU residents. As shown in Figure 3b, this figure ranged from around 20 % in the first and last quarter of the year to 11 % in the main holiday period, the third quarter.
Evolution over time
In the period 2004-2009, the seasonality of demand for tourism by EU residents fell slightly
Based on data available on 21 Member States for 2004 and 2009, this section takes a look at the trend in recent years of the seasonal bias in tourism demand for non-professional purpose. Although the period spans only six reference years, some patterns do emerge.
In all four quarters, both the number of holiday trips and the number of nights spent away increased in 2009 compared to the same quarter in 2004 (see Figures 5a and 6a).
However, two important trends are noticeable.
Firstly, the number of trips increased at a faster pace than the number of nights away, leading to a shorter average length of trip. This phenomenon is apparent all year round.
Secondly, the increases were significantly higher during the traditional low season compared to the peak season. In the first and fourth quarter, the number of trips increased by 19 % and 21 % between 2004 and 2009, while in the second and third quarter the increase was 14 % and 13 %. A broadly similar pattern was observed in the increase in nights spent away during the same quarter in this period, with an increase of 14 %, 10 %, 3 % and 7 % in the first, second, third and fourth quarter.
Between 2004 and 2009, Europeans slightly changed their tourism behaviour and tended to take additional holidays during the traditional low season rather than in the peak season. Given the reduction in the average length of trips, these additional trips tended to be shorter. The statistics on participation in tourism (not shown in the Figures) also indicated an increase between 2004 and 2009 in the number of persons who went on holiday at least once in the first or the fourth quarter, compared to the second or third quarter.
The relatively stronger demand for tourism during the low season (first and fourth quarter) led to a reduction in seasonal variation, as shown in the quarterly distribution of holiday trips and nights in Figures 5b and 6b. The share of the first quarter in the total number of holiday trips increased by 0.5 percentage points between 2004 and 2009 while the share of the third quarter dropped by 0.8 percentage points. The number of nights spent away increased by 0.9 percentage points in the first quarter and fell by 1.7 percentage points in the third quarter.
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. This article is based on the data on tourism demand.
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)
- 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)
Source data for tables, figures and maps on this page (MS Excel)
Methodology / Metadata
- Tourism demand : domestic and outbound tourism (excluding day-trips) (ESMS metadata file - tour_dem_esms)
- Tourism statistics in the European Statistical System - 2008 data
- 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