Skift Take

Travelers will always want to visit Europe. But as the world continues to open up, there's more competition for tourist dollars. Destinations will need to adjust accordingly.

Europe may still draw the most international tourists, but the destination can’t afford to rest on its laurels, new research from the World Travel & Tourism Council shows.

“It’s very clear to me that Europe is losing market share,” Gloria Guevara, president and CEO of WTTC, said in an interview Tuesday. Despite the popularity of the region for travelers, “the growth is not at the same level as the average.”

The travel and tourism sector grew at a global average of 3.9 percent last year; that growth rate was 2.7 percent in the European Union. Asian destinations are seeing much stronger performance, with China growing 7.3 percent, India up 6.7 percent, and Thailand increasing 6 percent.

“This is a region that is mature; that’s great,” Guevara said of Europe. “There is an opportunity here to grow the number of international travelers.”

As part of a steady rollout of worldwide tourism data, the council released numbers for the UK, Spain, and Germany late Tuesday.

The figures tell different stories for each country, with the worst news coming from the UK, where international visitor spending dropped nearly 10 percent in 2018. The spending drop led to paltry 1 percent growth of the UK’s tourism economy.

“Perhaps people are waiting to see what’s going to happen with Brexit and they were not traveling,” Guevara said.

This year is expected to be better, but only slightly, with 1.4 percent growth forecast. That’s lower than the global estimate of 3.6 percent growth and the European Union forecast of 2.4 percent growth.

A separate report, released by the European Travel Commission last month, showed that international arrivals to the UK fell 5.3 percent year-over-year for the first nine months of 2018. That followed a significant increase in 2017.

The picture was better for Spain, where the tourism economy grew 2.4 percent to contribute $211 billion to the gross domestic product. That increase is expected to accelerate to 2.8 percent in 2019. International visitor spending was up 2.7 percent to $82.1 billion, according to the WTTC research.

Germany’s travel and tourism economy grew by just 1.2 percent to contribute $305 billion  to the country’s gross domestic product. That growth rate is expected to tick up slightly this year to 1.9 percent. International visitor spending was up 2 percent to $54.8 billion.

The group releases economic impact research every year for 185 countries, 25 regions, and 65 cities. Last week, it put out a report on the United States that said flat visitation from China led to a decrease in international tourist spending.

The council also made news last week by announcing former President Barack Obama as keynote speaker at its upcoming Global Summit next month in Spain. He is the latest former leader — of the United States and other countries — to be tapped for the gig.

Guevara, Mexico’s former tourism minister, said she met Obama and heard him speak during her time in government.

“I had the chance to see firsthand the priority that he assigned to travel and tourism,” she said, citing several initiatives to increase travel to the U.S during his time in office.

“Besides being a good president, I think that he understands very well our sector and he understands very well the global landscape,” Guevara said.

Members have already said they want to hear his thoughts on investment in tourism promotion, growth in Asia, and the evolution of the travel industry.

“He has a unique view of things that perhaps in the past he was not able to share that much,” she said.

Not on the agenda, Guevara said: political hot-button issues.

“It’s not going to be about the U.S. or what’s going on right now,” she said. “It’s not going to be about Brexit.”


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Tags: germany, spain, tourism, uk, wttc

Photo credit: Tower Bridge in London is shown in this photo from November 2018. The UK saw international visitor numbers and spending drop last year. Giuseppe Milo / Flickr

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