Winter Tourism in Europe: The New Best Time to Travel to the Continent? Overview
Europe is the most popular tourist destination worldwide for its spectacular scenic beauty, cultural and historical heritage and superb connectivity, both within the continent and with the rest of the world. According to 2015 UN World Tourism Organization data, seven of the top ten tourist destination countries were in Europe.
France alone received 84.5 million tourists i.e. more than its own population! Up to the month of November, the rate of tourism growth in 2016 was 3% when compared to the previous year. Iceland, in particular, reported a staggering growth of 34% due to its location as a key hub for trans-Atlantic travel. While summer is when the continent receives the most tourists, winter tourism in Europe has become increasingly popular recently.
There are several reasons for this like cheaper hotel & airline rates, desire to travel during the off-season, winter sports like skiing and mountaineering, indoor attractions and even simply to sample winter exclusive cuisine. Winter tourism in Europe also includes people flocking to Mediterranean destinations like Greece, Italy, Spain and Malta to escape the long, harsh European winters and look out for the sun while having a siesta!
Winter Tourism in Europe: Drivers
There are a few drivers for winter tourism in Europe getting the attention that it does now. Europe is an extremely expensive continent because of the strong currency which is why tourists look to save on airfare, rail tickets, hotels and other expenses by travelling during the winter. This is when tourist arrivals are the least (barring the high volume Christmas and New Year week).
A second reason is the desire to take the road less travelled. Many people prefer going to a place during the non-tourist season when crowds are less and the place is quieter. A third reason is winter sports activities like skiing, mountaineering, snowboarding, sledging etc. The Alps are considered to be some of the best, most accessible mountains and have people flock to them for winter sports.
The fourth reason for winter tourism in Europe is to get away from the winter! Mediterranean nations like Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal welcome millions of tourists from northern countries like Germany, Sweden and the U.K. seeking to escape their harsh winter weather. The Mediterranean is known for its pleasant climate from December to February which makes it a very appealing travel destination for these nationals.
Winter Tourism in Europe: Restraints
One of the major challenges for winter tourism in Europe is the deteriorating security situation. Countries like France, Belgium and UK have been hit by terrorist attacks which have reduced their appeal to other parts of the world. The second challenge is the rise of other destinations like the U.S and China.
These countries have rapidly risen up the world tourism rankings due to flexible tourist visa policies and government support for this crucial industry. This makes it very likely that either one could challenge or even usurp Europe’s number one tourist destination position in the future.
Winter Tourism in Europe: Main Sector Sources
The largest source sectors for winter tourism in Europe are the Europeans themselves with Germany taking the lead on account of its position as the continent’s leading economic and industrial power. According to the European Travel Commission, Iceland alone recorded growth of 22.7% in arrivals from Germany in 2016 as compared to the previous year.
The U.S is the largest region outside Europe with Iceland again being the favoured destination to break long duration trans-Atlantic flights by spending some nights in the country.
Winter Tourism in Europe: Companies
A few companies offering winter tourism in Europe include Cox and Kings, SOTC, Thomas Cook, Tour Radar, Bus About and Insight Vacations.
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