What we lost in 2020 – new reports highlight the economic significance of European city tourism and meetings industry

7 December, 2020

While 2020 may be forgettable, the important role of city tourism and the meetings industry shouldn’t be lost in a year of unprecedented challenges. The world has been hit hard by coronavirus and nowhere has that been seen more than across Europe where a second wave is still active across many parts of the Continent.

There is light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel now. But, while looking back may not give us a clear outlook of what we can expect in the future, in the short-term at least, it does remind us of the power of travel and tourism and meetings and events at delivery economic benefits across destinations.

Two new reports from European Cities Marketing, the association for tourist offices, convention bureaus and city marketing organisations in Europe help highlight their role and recap what life was like pre- the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ECM Benchmarking Report and ECM Meetings Statistics Report provide commentary into bed nights and meetings in Europe in 2019 showing healthy growth before the arrival of the pandemic that has changed industry dynamics. The analysis of the situation before the pandemic serves as a target for recovery.

“The tourism industry has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, in spite of the challenging times, the importance of city tourism remains unquestionable,” says ECM. Understanding that “is especially true now” as the world faces the numerous challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, as “it is essential to understand where we were before the crisis and to strive towards these targets in our recovery efforts,” it explains.

The ECM Benchmarking Report provides crucial insights into the European city competitiveness. Among the 119 European cities included in this report, an average year-on-year growth rate of +4.4% was recorded in 2019, which is slightly higher than the previous year’s growth rate of +4.2%. The top five performing cities in terms of total bed nights for 2019 were: London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, and Istanbul, with Istanbul also recording the highest growth rate (+14.1%).

Altogether, European city destinations represented 690 million tourist bed nights last year. In addition, the average growth rate of bed capacity for the ECM Report cities gained momentum with an increase of +4.9% in 2019, with the highest bed occupancy rates recorded in Dublin (85.7%), London (83.6%), and Rome (78.1%).

Among Europe’s main source markets (Russia, China, the United States, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and Italy) a positive trend saw growth among them all. Italy in particular with an impressive double-digit increase (+17.5%), followed by Germany (+5.3%) and Japan (+4.1%). The lowest growth rate was recorded in the United Kingdom market (+0.2%).

Moreover, the report shows a positive average annual growth rate of bed nights in both the ECM Report cities (+4.9%) as well as in the EU 28 nations (+2.4%). Cities also grew faster than other regions (+4.4% versus +1.5%) demonstrating the importance of city destinations for European travel.

The ECM Meetings Statistics Report, based upon data reported by 46 ECM member cities, showed +a 7.6% increase in the total number of meetings reported between 2018 and 2019. After a slight decrease of -3% between 2017 and 2018, the total number of meeting participants rebounded in 2019, with an increase of +49.2% compared to 2018. Likewise, the total number of participant days reported between 2018 and 2019 saw a similar increase of +47.6%.

From 2019 highs to 2020 lows. According to data presented by AksjeBloggen.com, the combined revenue of the accommodation and restaurant industries in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom – the three largest markets in Europe – is expected to plunge by USD95.7 billion amid the COVID-19 crisis.

This comprises a USD43.8 billion plunge in the UK, a USD24.9 billion shortfall in Germany and a USD27 billion slump in France. The UK figure is down around 40%, the France and Germany levels by around a quarter. Italy, the fourth largest accommodation and restaurant sector in Europe will see a USD15.5 billion revenue reduction, while Spain, the fifth largest market, will see the biggest impact in scale, an almost 50% decline and a revenue loss similar to the levels of the UK.