Once again this year, the number of popular holiday destinations untouched by terrorism or tragedy has shrunk and the travel industry, communities and individuals in the affected countries are having to count the consequences.
The bald truth is that one country’s misfortune is another’s gain, so while Egypt’s Red Sea coast remains quiet by its usual standards, the Canary Islands are heaving with visitors.
This year, Turkey (EU1000) and France (EU2000) have borne the brunt. Istanbul has been the centre of terrorist attacks in which scores have been killed in outrages against the city and Ataturk airport. July’s attempted military coup meant that the country’s popularity plummeted further, despite no official warning that it was unsafe to visit the main tourist areas.
In September, however, the US government was telling its citizens that they “should carefully consider the need to travel to Turkey at this time” but issued no such advice about France, despite a state of emergency existing there until January 26 next year.
Even before these events, concern about Turkey was beginning to show, with Euromonitor putting 2015 visitor figures at 34.7 million, compared with 35 million in 2014, when years of steady growth came to a halt.
Tourism officials are likely to use WTM London to outline a recovery plan. Tourist board figures to June show a 30% fall in the number of total foreign visitors, with June down 40% and July falling nearly 37%. In the January-July period, Germany remained the country’s biggest market, with 2.1 million visitors, although this was down nearly 750,000, while Georgia took second place with 1.25 million, an increase of 220,000.
It remains to be seen what the effects are on France following the Paris attacks in November 2015 and the atrocity in Nice in July this year which combined left 216 people dead. The country remains the world’s most popular tourist destination, with 84.5 million visitors in 2015, although its annual growth rate has slowed to around 1% in the past few years.
The early signs are that there has been a fall in visits to French cities. Research from France’s National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (Insee) shows foreign visitor numbers down 8.5% in the second quarter, with the number of foreign visitor stays in city hotels down 7.3%, and Paris falling 12.9%. Insee adds that hotel occupancy as a whole has fallen 1.6 points year-on-year to 61.2%.
The tourist board is acting to restore visitor numbers. “Next year we will continue to focus on Paris to boost numbers, the Cote d’Azur will receive attention to aid recovery and we will also launch a new France campaign towards the end of the year or beginning of next,” said a spokeswoman, who added that 2016 had been “challenging”, while 2017 was “unpredictable”.
There are, however, some key events in 2017 that should boost France’s profile, including Disneyland Paris’s 25th anniversary and the 70th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival. Golf will also play a part in marketing as the country is the venue for the European Ryder Cup in 2018.
In terms of beach holidays, this year has been most notable for the switch to the western Mediterranean given the issues in the eastern Med and North Africa.
Euromonitor figures show that in the 2013–15 period, Spain (EU1500) added almost eight million tourists, bringing its latest annual total to 68.2 million. The UK is the country’s biggest market, and in the January-July period this saw a 15% increase to more than 10 million visitors.
A Spanish Tourist Office spokesperson added: “Bookings are up double-digit figures for winter 2016-17, with one in every three Brits choosing Spain as a tourism destination for this period.”
Another winner has been Greece (EU1200), despite images of its migrant crisis being flashed around the world, which has retained its popularity, perhaps because of the huge choice of islands it offers. In January to July, Greece saw arrivals increase 1% to 12 million, but those from Russia are up 19%, the US 12% and the UK 6%, according to Bank of Greece figures. Germany’s figures are up 4%, with Condor and Lufthansa launching new island routes for summer 2016.
“Greece is open for business as usual and we encourage visitors to book their holidays as they would normally do,” said Dimitris Tryfonopoulos , Greek National Tourism Organisation secretary general, who added that there had been a “steady increase in visitor numbers for various markets in the shoulder months such as April and October”.
He continued: “With several new flights and destinations already announced by airlines and tour operators for summer 2017 from various international markets including the UK, we are very hopeful that next year will be another great year for Greek tourism.”
Cyprus (EU1300) has been a bigger beneficiary of Egypt and Tunisia’s misfortunes as it is an alternative winter as well as summer destination. So far, the country has been immune to any negative perception about its proximity to Syria and the island’s total numbers January to July were up almost 20% on last year, with 1.74 million arrivals. UK visitor numbers were up 19.5% in 2015 to more than one million with a further 13% rise in the first seven months of 2016.
The market showing the biggest increase was Russia, which provides the second-biggest number of arrivals in Cyprus after the UK. Russia is up 45% on last year with an extra 134,000 arrivals in the first seven months of 2016. This comes despite the October 2015 demise of Russia’s second-biggest airline, Transaero, which provided a large slice of airlift to Cyprus.
Orestis Rossides, the Cyprus Tourism Organisation’s UK director, said Transaero’s collapse was “a short-term negative”. “Russian tour operators did, in a relatively brief amount of time, manage to find alternative carriers,” he said.
He added that shoulder season sales to Russia had grown “particularly well” on account of hoteliers offering good rates.
Another significant collapse was that of Cyprus Airways, which ceased flying in January 2015. Its demise has not affected tourism, as privately owned Cypriot carrier Cobalt Airlines, Greece’s Aegean Airlines and Romania’s Blue Air filled gaps, with budget airlines taking the remainder.
Next year, Paphos will become a European Capital of Culture and the island’s government hopes it will put Cyprus centre-stage.
Faced with less choice overall, 2017 may be the year when consumers learn to try lesser-known countries and there are signs that this is already happening. Slovenia (EU700) saw a 12% jump in arrivals in the January-April period with city breaks and winter sports showing strong growth. The country is most popular with Italians, with Austria, Germany, Croatia and the Netherlands the next biggest markets.
Slovenia’s 2017 global campaign centres on sport. Sizeable investment has been made in facilities including winter sports training, cycling routes and football training grounds. The strategy, which will be unveiled at WTM London, seems assured now that a Slovenian, Aleksander Ceferin, is Uefa president.
WTM London may provide the springboard for countries like these to persuade trade and consumers that when one popular destination loses its appeal (for what, in the scheme of things, is usually only a short period), others are only too ready to take up the slack.