Tourism trends

From Statistics Explained

Data from December 2013. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: November 2014.
Table 1: Holiday trips of residents
(aged 15 years or more), 2012 - Source: Eurostat (tour_dem_tttot) and (tour_dem_ttq)
Table 2: Tourism indicators, 2007 and 2012 - Source: Eurostat (tour_cap_nat), (tour_occ_ninat), (tour_dem_totot) and (demo_pjanbroad)
Figure 1: Number of nights spent at tourist accommodation establishments, EU-28, 2002–12
(1 000 million nights spent by residents and non-residents) - Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_ninat) and (tour_occ_nim)
Table 3: Top 10 Member States of origin for outbound holidays, 2012
(1 000 nights spent abroad by residents of the country) - Source: Eurostat (tour_dem_tntot)
Figure 2: Country of origin for outbound holidays, 2012
(average nights spent abroad per inhabitant) - Source: Eurostat (tour_dem_tntot) and (demo_pjanbroad)
Figure 3: Tourism destinations — nights spent at tourist accommodation establishments, 2012 (1)
(1 000 nights spent in the country by non-residents) - Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_ninat) and (tour_occ_nim)
Table 4: Top 10 tourism destinations — nights spent at tourist accommodation establishments, 2012
(1 000 nights spent in the country by non-residents) - Source: Eurostat (tour_occ_ninat) and (tour_occ_nim)
Figure 4: Tourism intensity, 2012
(nights spent by residents and non-residents at tourist accommodation establishments per inhabitant) - Source: Eurostat tour_occ_nim&language=en&mode=view (tour_occ_ninat tour_occ_nim) and (tps00001)
Table 5: Travel receipts and expenditure in balance of payments, 2004–12 - Source: Eurostat (bop_q_eu), (bop_its_det) and (nama_gdp_c)

This article provides information on recent statistics in relation to tourism in the European Union (EU). Tourism plays an important role in the EU because of its economic and employment potential, as well as its social and environmental implications. Tourism statistics are not only used to monitor the EU’s tourism policies but also its regional and sustainable development policies.

In 2010, more than one in seven enterprises in the European non-financial business economy belonged to the tourism industries. These 3.4 million enterprises employed an estimated 15.2 million persons. Enterprises in industries with tourism related activities accounted for 11 % of the persons employed in the whole non-financial business economy and 29 % of persons employed in the non-financial services sector. The tourism industries' shares in total turnover and value added at factor cost were relatively lower, with the tourism industries accounting for 6 % of the turnover and 9 % of the value added of the non-financial business economy.

Main statistical findings

Tourism volume — demand and supply

Residents (aged 15 and above) from within the EU-28 made 1 041 million holiday trips in 2012. Short trips (of one to three nights) accounted for more than half (55.4 %) of the total trips made (see Table 1), while approximately three quarters (76.1 %) of all trips made were to domestic destinations, with the remainder abroad.

In some EU Member States, over half the total number of holidays trips were to destinations abroad; this was the case for Luxembourg, Belgium, Malta and Slovenia. However, less than 10 % of holiday trips taken by residents of Romania, Spain, Greece and Portugal were abroad. These figures appear to be influenced by both the size of the Member State and its geographical location (smaller and more northerly countries tended to report a higher propensity for their residents to take holidays abroad).

It is estimated that some 51.3 % of the EU-28’s population took part in tourism in 2012, in other words made at least one trip of at least four overnight stays during the year. Again, large differences can be observed between the EU Member States, as this participation rate ranged from 10.0 % in Romania to 78.7 % in Sweden (see Table 2).

From the supply perspective, it is estimated that nearly 545 000 tourist accommodation establishments were active within the EU-28 in 2012; there were over 200 000 hotels and similar accommodation establishments that provided almost 13.1 million bed places, of which more than half (57.4 %) were concentrated in four of the EU Member States namely, Italy (2.3 million bed places), Spain (1.9 million bed places), Germany (1.8 million bed places) and the United Kingdom (1.6 million bed places). In 2012, resident and non-resident (foreign) tourists spent over 1 600 million nights in hotels and similar establishments in the EU-28.

During recent decades, the number of tourism nights spent at tourist accommodation establishments has generally shown an upward trend (see Figure 1). The start of the period for analysis in Figure 1 is characterised by a relatively low number, in part due to a decline in travel after the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. There were also short-term downturns in the number of tourism nights spent in collective tourist accommodation in 2008 and 2009 as a result of the financial and economic crisis: the number of tourism nights in the EU-28 fell by 0.6 % in 2008 and by a further 2.1 % in 2009. In 2010, however, the number of tourism nights spent at tourist accommodation establishments increased by 4.7 %. This positive development continued, with growth of 3.3 % in 2011. In 2012, 2 577 million nights were spent at tourist accommodation establishments (see Figure 1). However, this figure can not be compared with previous years because of methodological changes in the data for some Member States.

Holidaymakers travelling abroad

EU-28 residents spent 2 236 million nights abroad on holiday (personal travel only) in 2012 (see Table 3). German residents spent 625 million nights during holiday trips outside of Germany in 2012, while residents of the United Kingdom spent 506 million nights abroad (data for 2011); residents from these two Member States accounted for more than half (50.6 %) of the total number of nights spent abroad by EU-28 residents on holiday.

When taking into account a country’s size in terms of its population, Luxembourg was the EU Member State whose residents spent the most nights abroad per inhabitant (an average of 22.6 nights per annum on holiday in 2012), followed by Cyprus (16.3), the Netherlands (12.1) and Ireland (12.0). At the other end of the spectrum, residents of Romania, Bulgaria, Greece (data for 2011) and Portugal spent, on average, less than one night abroad on holiday in 2012 (see Figure 2).

Top destinations

In 2012, Spain was the most common tourism destination in the EU for non-residents (people coming from abroad), with 243.4 million nights spent at tourist accommodation establishments, or 21.6 % of the EU-28 total. Across the EU, the top three most popular destinations for non-residents were Spain, Italy (180.5 million nights) and France (125.0 million nights), which together accounted for nearly half (48.7 %) of the total nights spent by non-residents in the EU-28. The least common destinations were Luxembourg, Latvia and Lithuania; the effect of the size of these Member States should be considered when interpreting these values (see Figure 3 and Table 4).

The number of nights spent (by residents and non-residents) can be put into perspective by making a comparison with the size of each country in population terms, providing an indicator of tourism intensity. In 2012, using this measure, the Mediterranean destinations of Malta, Cyprus and Croatia, as well as the alpine and city trip destination of Austria were the most popular tourist destinations in the EU-28 (see Figure 4).

Economic aspects of international travel

The economic importance of international tourism can be measured by looking at the ratio of international travel receipts relative to GDP; these data are from balance of payments statistics and include business travel, as well as travel for pleasure. In 2012, the ratio of travel receipts to GDP was highest in Croatia (15.5 %), Malta (14.4 %) and Cyprus (11.4 %), confirming the importance of tourism to these countries (see Table 5). In absolute terms, the highest international travel receipts in 2012 were recorded in Spain (EUR 43 521 million) and France (EUR 41 794 million), followed by Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Germany recorded the highest level of expenditure on international travel, totalling EUR 65 238 million in 2012, followed by the United Kingdom (EUR 41 055 million) and France (EUR 28 923 million). When analysing this expenditure relative to the size of each country in population terms, Luxembourg’s residents spent, on average, EUR 5 329 per inhabitant on travel abroad in 2012, far ahead of the second ranked country, Belgium (EUR 1 523 per inhabitant), which was followed by Sweden, Denmark, Cyprus and Ireland.

Data sources and availability

Tourism, in a statistical context, refers to the activity of visitors taking a trip to a destination outside their usual environment, for less than a year. It can be for any main purpose, including business, leisure or other personal reasons other than to be employed by a resident person, household or enterprise in the place visited. Tourism statistics are currently limited to at least an overnight stay; as of 2014, outbound same-day visits will also be covered by official European statistics.

A system of tourism statistics was established in Council Directive 95/57/EC of 23 November 1995 on the collection of statistical information in the field of tourism. This legal basis requires EU Member States to provide a regular set of comparable tourism statistics. Amendments in 2004 and 2006 concerned the enlargement of the EU and recent changes in the world market for tourism. In July 2011, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union adopted a new Regulation 692/2011 concerning European statistics on tourism and repealing Council Directive 95/57/EC; this came into force for the 2012 reference year.

Tourism statistics in the EU consist of two main components: on the one hand, statistics relating to capacity and occupancy in collective tourist accommodation; on the other, statistics relating to tourism demand. In most EU Member States, the former are collected via surveys filled in by accommodation establishments, while the latter are mainly collected via traveller surveys at border crossings or through household surveys.

Statistics on the capacity of collective tourist accommodation include the number of establishments, the number of bedrooms and the number of bed places. These statistics are available by establishment type or by region and are compiled annually.

Statistics on the occupancy of collective tourist accommodation refer to the number of arrivals (at accommodation establishments) and the number of nights spent by residents and non-residents, separated into establishment type or region; annual and monthly statistical series are available. In addition, statistics on the use of bed places (occupancy rates) are compiled.

Statistics on tourism demand refer to tourist participation, in other words, the number of people who made at least one trip of at least four overnight stays during the reference period. There are statistics in relation to the number of tourism trips made (and the number of nights spent on those trips), separated by:

  • destination country;
  • purpose
  • length of stay;
  • accommodation type;
  • departure month;
  • transport mode;
  • expenditure.

The data are also analysed by the sociodemographic characteristics of the tourist:

  • sex;
  • age group;
  • educational attainment level;
  • household income;
  • activity status.

Data from a range of other official sources may be used to study tourism. These statistics include:


The EU is a major tourist destination, with five of its Member States among the world’s top 10 destinations for holidaymakers, according to UNWTO[1] (United Nations World Tourism Organisation) data. Tourism has the potential to contribute towards employment and economic growth, as well as to development in rural, peripheral or less-developed areas. These characteristics drive the demand for reliable and harmonised statistics within this field, as well as within the wider context of regional policy and sustainable development policy areas.

Tourism can play a significant role in the development of European regions. Infrastructure created for tourism purposes contributes to local development, while jobs that are created or maintained can help counteract industrial or rural decline. Sustainable tourism involves the preservation and enhancement of cultural and natural heritage, ranging from the arts to local gastronomy or the preservation of biodiversity.

In 2006, the European Commission adopted a Communication titled 'A renewed EU tourism policy: towards a stronger partnership for European tourism’ (COM(2006) 134 final). It addressed a range of challenges that will shape tourism in the coming years, including Europe’s ageing population, growing external competition, consumer demand for more specialised tourism, and the need to develop more sustainable and environmentally-friendly tourism practices. It argued that more competitive tourism supply and sustainable destinations would help raise tourist satisfaction and secure Europe’s position as the world’s leading tourist destination. It was followed in October 2007 by another Communication, titled 'Agenda for a sustainable and competitive European tourism’ (COM(2007) 621 final), which proposed actions in relation to the sustainable management of destinations, the integration of sustainability concerns by businesses, and the awareness of sustainability issues among tourists.

The Lisbon Treaty acknowledged the importance of tourism — outlining a specific competence for the EU in this field and allowing for decisions to be taken by a qualified majority. An article within the Treaty specifies that the EU ‘shall complement the action of the Member States in the tourism sector, in particular by promoting the competitiveness of Union undertakings in that sector’. ‘Europe, the world’s No 1 tourist destination — a new political framework for tourism in Europe’ (COM(2010) 352 final) was adopted by the European Commission in June 2010. This Communication seeks to encourage a coordinated approach for initiatives linked to tourism and defined a new framework for actions to increase the competitiveness of tourism and its capacity for sustainable growth. It proposed a number of European or multinational initiatives — including a consolidation of the socioeconomic knowledge base for tourism — aimed at achieving these objectives.

See also

Further Eurostat information


Main tables


Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)

Other information

External links


  1. UNWTO Tourism Highlights — 2013