In an exclusive interview with Travel And Tour World, Eduardo Santander, Executive Director of the European Travel Commission (ETC) shares how Europe is recovering its MICE and business tourism business.
Travel And Tour World: How the European travel, tourism and MICE industry is going in the midst of the devastation of COVID-19?
Eduardo Santander: The industry has demonstrated remarkable resilience and is well on its way to recovery. However, this won’t happen overnight.
Our most recent research predicts that domestic visitor nights at European destinations are expected to return to 2019 volumes in 2022, and intra-regional visitor nights are expected to recover by 2024. Unfortunately, the predictions for overseas travel are less optimistic, at least, in the short to mid-term. Visitor nights from long-haul source markets are not expected to return to 2019 volumes until 2025.
Although the industry is learning to live with COVID-19, new challenges and uncertainties face it due to the fallout from Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine. The sharp spike in energy prices because of the crisis will directly affect the costs of transportation and tourism services, while also putting a dampener on consumer sentiment.
In addition, hotel rooms and vacant holiday rental properties are rightly being used in efforts to accommodate Ukrainian refugees. As the crisis rolls on, the full impact on the European travel industry remains to be seen. However, the latest numbers from ForwardKeys indicate that intra-regional travel demand and the bounce-back of transatlantic travel is holding steady for the moment.
Travel And Tour World: How much potential do you think for European travel in global travel market? Tell us elaborately.
Eduardo Santander: European Travel Commission (ETC) believes there is enormous potential for European travel in the global market. One of our core mandates is promoting ‘Destination Europe’ globally to a variety of different audiences. Europe is so varied that it appeals to a wide range of interest-driven communities.
European Travel Commission (ETC) routinely monitors the travel sentiment other markets have towards Europe. Although COVID-19 is still a deterrent for many long-haul travellers, sentiment is continuing to improve across the globe. There is a greater appetite than this time last year. However, as outlined previously recovery will not be instantaneous.
Travel And Tour World: How European Travel Commission is working with tourism, aviation, hospitality and convention bureau to promote Europe as the most loved destination?
Eduardo Santander: European Travel Commission (ETC) works closely with European DMOs and industry partners to raise awareness of the extraordinary variety of travel experiences in Europe. Over the past two years, our marketing campaigns have mostly focused on helping the industry recover from, and adjust to, COVID-19. For instance, our Open up to Europe campaign in partnership with European Union and over 30 destinations and travel brands, was rolled out across Europe as restrictions were eased. This multi-channel digital campaign was designed to reassure potential tourists that destinations and tourism businesses in Europe had implemented all the necessary health and safety protocols and were ready to welcome visitors again. As part of the campaign, ETC and our partners developed the microsite “OpenUpToEurope” website which was a one-stop-shop for travelers last summer.
Travel And Tour World: In which travel events, you think for the promotion of European Travel Commission as a culture, leisure and business tourism destination?
Eduardo Santander: Our current marketing strategy mostly focuses on online B2C and B2B activities. Nevertheless, we have a presence at selected in-person trade events. For instance, we took part in ITB China 2021 which allowed ETC to maintain close ties with Chinese agents and buyers and to learn more about trends and changes in consumer behaviour in China. ETC believes it is crucial to intensify dialogue with Chinese partners on our common journey towards the recovery of tourism.
Travel And Tour World: What are the challenges European Travel Commission faced in COVID-19 variant Omicron times
Eduardo Santander: Aided by vaccine rollouts, travel and tourism sectors made encouraging strides in 2021 with positive uptick in traveller intentions and a bounce back in numbers this past summer and autumn. However, the impact of the Omicron variant at the tail end of last year served as a powerful reminder of the uncertainty created by the pandemic.
As more and more restrictions were brought in, travel to and across Europe once again became increasingly difficult for tourists. Omicron aside, we shouldn’t dismiss the other factors that have also weighed on tourism recovery such as the confusion around the colour-coded EU travel system applied differently across European destinations.
Overall, gaining control over the pandemic, global tourism recovery is now dependent on the removal of travel restrictions, especially for international travel.
Travel And Tour World: What are your plans to restart European tourism industry in post COVID-19 era?
Eduardo Santander: As already mentioned, we’re now working on a new strategy for 2030 to define how ETC and its members can contribute to the green and digital transition of European tourism. However, 2022 must be a year of action not only for European Travel Commission (ETC) but all relevant stakeholders. European Union institutions, national authorities, destinations, and the private industry have an opportunity to build back better by working together to reimaging and create a more sustainable, digital, conscious, and resilient European tourism sector. We must set ambitious goals and craft plans that challenge the status quo.
ETC and our 34-member National Tourism Organisations also strongly welcome the EU Transition Pathway for Tourism as part of the new Industrial Strategy in Europe. European NTOs, as key national tourism players, should have a major role in its implementation in the coming years.
Travel And Tour World: Share with us about the planning and marketing strategies of European Travel Commission for 2022-2023 tourism?
Eduardo Santander: In addition to progressing the ‘Horizon 2022’ strategy, European Travel Commission (ETC) will continue to support European destinations and the industry to recover from the impact of the pandemic. This involves using our influence to advocate for a coordinated and ordered reopening of destinations and outbound markets, monitoring performance of the sector and providing up-to-date market insights and reporting on travel sentiments.