Seeking European arrivals? Outbound market may see growth slowing in 2018, but the 2019 outlook is ‘positive’

10 December, 2018

While most eyes are on Asia, Europe remains a major outbound market and continues its steady growth despite recent geopolitical instability worldwide, which studies show doesn't deter European travellers, but influences their choice of destination. While many travellers will remain in the Continent, market trends are valuable for destinations across the globe.


  • Europe remains a major outbound market and continues its steady growth despite recent geopolitical instability worldwide;
  • In 2017, spending on outbound travel in Europe was estimated to value EUR450 billion and is predicted to grow to over EUR500 billion this year;
  • While this year's performance shows a softening of annual growth, it will be another strong year and their is a positive outlook for the European outbound travel market.

European outbound tourism is a key component of the travel industry in Europe and an important market for tourist destinations worldwide. Approximately 26% of the EU population participates in tourism outside their home country at least once each year, reflecting many Europeans' appetite for international travel. In 2017, spending on outbound travel in Europe was estimated to value EUR450 billion and is predicted to continue increasing over the next ten years, growing to an estimated EUR507 billion in 2018 and up to EUR615 billion by 2028.

It is clear 2017 was a strong year for the European outbound market, with annual growth more than doubling from +3% in 2016 to +7%. This year's current performance for the first eight months of 2018 is up +5% year-on-year, while a softening of growth on last year, it still represents a strong performance.

"Rising oil prices and air fares have dampened European growth. However, the trend remains clearly positive", says Rolf Freitag, CEO of IPK International, which has released its annual World Travel Monitor for ITB Berlin. The research shows Spain has been unable to maintain its strong growth of international visitors of recent years, Turkey is attracting more holidaymakers again, Greece is also reporting rising visitor numbers, and following a steady decline in the past few years, tour holidays are back in favour with European tourists.

According to the IPK World Travel Monitor, which covers more than 90 per cent of global outbound travel, it is actually Poland that is the fastest growing European outbound source market for international travel, reporting a +10% growth year-on-year. Also Swedes and Russians undertook more trips this year, while the Italian, German and Austrian markets registered solid growth too. On the flip side, figures for Switzerland, Denmark and the United Kingdom were below average by comparison.

Again, driving growth this year were trips within Europe, according to the data, which increased by +6%. A look at long-haul travel shows that trips to Asia grew by +3%. At +1%, trips to the Americas recovered slightly from last year's stagnating figures. Mexico, for instance, registered +4% more visitors from Europe over the first eight months, while the USA reported an increase of +1%.

Among European destinations Turkey is the clear winner, reporting almost +30% more visitors. The developments were also very positive in Greece, with a +19% increase over the first eight months. During the same period the UK registered a drop in visitors of approximately -3%. After years of strong growth, the figures for Spain stagnated, but it continues to attract high visitor numbers.

Among Europeans, the research shows that tour holidays are seeing a comeback this year with a growth of +5%. Ever-popular sun & beach holidays were among this year's growth drivers during the first eight months with a growth of +8%. City breaks also showed positive growth across the eight month period in 2018, albeit less than in previous years.

Year to date, holiday trips overall increased by +6%, but in contrast business travel stagnated with traditional business trips down -5%, while MICE travel increased by +3%. During the first eight months of this year higher expenses and longer stays of European travellers have led to an +8% rise in total turnover, says the IPK International findings.

Looking ahead to 2019, IPK International forecasts a good year for the European outbound travel market and anticipates +5% growth. In particular, Russian traveller numbers are expected to rise sharply by +7%. The signs are also positive for source markets like Denmark, France, Switzerland, Spain and Belgium. Europe's largest outbound travel market, Germany, is forecast to grow by +4% in 2019.