Skift Take

Although many tour operators are hopeful they'll stage Christmas market tours next year, they'll rue missing out on an enormous amounts of revenue generated by the popular excursions for a long time — especially as many haven't fully recovered from the pandemic.

Europe’s large number of Christmas markets — essentially shut down last year because of the pandemic — were poised to welcome huge crowds eager to return to some of the continent’s famous and lucrative winter attractions this year.

But many tour operators won’t get the chance to share the experience with travelers this year as many Christmas activities are being threatened by the Omicron variant. As several European destinations recently announced, they’re shutting down their Christmas markets again this year due to surging Covid cases and — in the case of Austria — a lockdown, numerous tour operators have decided to cancel trips again geared toward taking their guests to the popular attractions.

“The cancellation of the markets made it impossible to deliver the whole experience around the tour theme,” said Yves Marceau, the vice president of product for G Adventures, which canceled two planned Christmas market excursions for this winter.

“It became clear that with the increasing number of restrictions being put in place — for example, less people being able to enter, shorter opening hours, and cancellation of live music — that this year it would be impossible to deliver a quality experience to our travelers.”

Christmas markets tours of Europe usually include visits to Germany and Austria. The markets have long been considered an integral part of Germany’s culture — and enormously lucrative. The 2,500 and 3,000 the country normally hosts attracted roughly 160 million domestic and international visitors annually prior to the pandemic, generating revenues between $3.4 and $5.6 billion. Meanwhile, Austria’s capital Vienna is home to 20 Christmas markets and is considered to be the birthplace of the phenomenon.

But the cancellation of numerous Christmas markets in Germany last month, especially major ones in Munich and Dresden, as well as a lockdown in neighboring Austria that forced their closure had numerous tour operators had tour operators scrambling to offer refunds and credits for guests. However, as some Christmas markets are still going ahead, would it have been possible to quickly modify their trips to take guests to markets in other countries?

“(That) is very tricky given the continual changes in border regulations,” said smarTours CEO Christine Petersen, adding that travelers are still facing constant changes in testing requirements.

The emergence of the Omicron variant has already disrupted many planned Christmas activities worldwide, including markets. The Czech Republic, which has already recorded cases of the Omicron variant, recently imposed numerous restrictions, including banning all Christmas markets in the country.

But when asked if he was concerned about more Christmas markets being cancelled, Contiki’s Managing Director Chris Treloggen didn’t believe such as a development would significantly harm the company. Contiki suspended two Christmas market tours scheduled for this month but is still proceeding with other European trips.

“While it would be a shame to see further closure in countries such as Italy and Spain, it is not the defining aspect of these trips, so (they) will not really be diminished,” he said.


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Tags: cancellations, covid-19, europe, tour operators

Photo credit: Several Christmas Markets in Europe have been cancelled. Roderick Eime / Flickr

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