From Statistics Explained
- Data from September 2012. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.
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.
The role played by tourism, for both businesses and citizens, has grown considerably in recent decades. According to estimates from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry, tourism accounts for more than 5 % of the EU-27’s gross domestic product (GDP). The tourist accommodation sector employs 2.4 million people in the EU-27, and total employment within the whole of the EU-27’s tourism industry is estimated to be between 12 million and 14 million people.
Main statistical findings
Tourism volume – demand and supply
Residents (aged 15 and above) from within the EU-27 made 1 055 million holiday trips in 2011. Short trips (of one to three nights) accounted for slightly more than half (55.0 %) of the total trips made (see Table 1), while approximately three quarters (76.3 %) 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, Slovenia and the Netherlands. 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 51.9 % of the EU-27’s population took part in tourism in 2011, 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 6.4 % in Bulgaria to 90.3 % in Cyprus (see Table 2).
From the supply perspective, it is estimated that just over 202 000 hotels and similar establishments were active within the EU-27 in 2011; there were nearly 271 000 other collective tourist accommodation establishments (such as campsites and holiday dwellings). Hotels and similar establishments provided almost 12.6 million bed places, of which nearly half (46.4 %) were concentrated in three of the EU Member States namely, Italy (2.3 million bed places), Spain (1.8 million bed places) and Germany (1.7 million bed places). In 2011, resident and non-resident (foreign) tourists spent over 1 600 million nights in hotels and similar establishments in the EU-27.
During recent decades, the number of tourism nights spent in collective tourist accommodation 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-27 fell by 0.6 % in 2008 and by a further 2.8 % in 2009. In 2010, however, the number of tourism nights spent in collective tourist accommodation increased by 0.8 %. This positive development continued, with growth accelerating to 5.0 % in 2011, resulting in 2 364 million nights spent in collective tourist accommodation (see Figure 1).
Top holidaymakers travelling abroad
EU-27 residents spent 2 263 million nights abroad on holiday (personal travel only) in 2011 (see Table 3). German residents spent 656 million nights during holiday trips outside of Germany in 2011, while residents of the United Kingdom spent 502.9 million nights abroad; residents from these two Member States accounted for more than half (51.2 %) of the total number of nights spent abroad by EU-27 residents on holiday.
When taking into account a country’s size in terms of its population, Luxembourg was the Member State whose residents spent the most nights abroad per inhabitant (an average of 22.0 nights per annum on holiday in 2011), followed by Cyprus (13.3), Ireland (12.5, data for 2010) and the Netherlands (11.5). At the other end of the spectrum, residents of Romania, Portugal, Greece (data for 2010), Bulgaria, Poland and Italy (2010) spent, on average, less than two nights abroad on holiday in 2011 (see Figure 2).
In 2011, Spain was the most common tourism destination in the EU for non-residents (people coming from abroad), with 239.4 million nights spent in collective tourist accommodation, or almost a quarter (23.2 %) of the EU-27 total. Across the EU, the top three most popular destinations for non-residents were Spain, Italy (178.0 million nights) and France (123.0 million nights), which together accounted for 52.5 % of the total nights spent by non-residents in the EU-27. The least common destinations were Luxembourg, Lithuania and Latvia; 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 2011, using this measure, the Mediterranean island destinations of Malta and Cyprus, as well as the alpine and city trip destination of Austria were the most popular tourist destinations in the EU-27 (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 2011, the ratio of travel receipts to GDP was highest in Malta (14.0 %) and Cyprus (10.2 %), confirming the importance of tourism to these island nations (see Table 5); an even higher ratio was observed in Croatia (14.7 %). In absolute terms, the highest international travel receipts in 2011 were recorded in Spain (EUR 43 026 million) and France (EUR 38 682 million), followed by Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom.
Germany recorded the highest level of expenditure on international travel, totalling EUR 60 596 million in 2011, followed by the United Kingdom (EUR 36 275 million) and France (EUR 29 922 million). When analysing this expenditure relative to the size of each country in population terms, Luxembourg’s residents spent, on average, EUR 5 289 per inhabitant on travel abroad in 2011, far ahead of the second ranked country, Belgium (EUR 1 466 per inhabitant), which was followed by Denmark, Ireland, Sweden and Cyprus.
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 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;
- departure month;
- length of stay;
- type of organisation for the trip;
- transport mode;
- accommodation type;
The data may also be analysed by sociodemographic explanatory variables, such as age and sex; these statistics are collected on a quarterly and an annual basis.
Data from a range of other official sources may be used to study tourism. These statistics include:
- data on employment in the tourism accommodation sector from the labour force survey (LFS), analysed by working time (full/part-time), working status, age, level of education, sex, permanency and seniority of work with the same employer (annual and quarterly data);
- data on personal travel receipts and expenditure from the balance of payments;
- transport statistics (for example, air passenger transport);
- structural business statistics (SBS) may be used to provide additional information on tourism flows and on the economic performance of certain tourism-related sectors.
The EU is a major tourist destination, with five Member States among the world’s top ten destinations for holidaymakers, according to UNWTO 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.
Further Eurostat information
Methodology / Metadata
- Capacity of collective tourist accommodation; establishments, bedrooms and bedplaces (ESMS metadata file - tour_cap_esms)
- Tourism demand : domestic and outbound tourism (excluding day-trips) (ESMS metadata file - tour_dem_esms)
Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)
- Agenda for a sustainable and competitive European tourism (Communication from the European Commission, October 2007)
- Methodology for tourism statistics and Tourism Satellite Accounts (TSA)