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Holidaymakers relax on the beach at Arenal, in Mallorca, Spain. Photo: Getty Images

Chinese tourists and their big wallets still missed in Europe this summer despite European travellers boosting local tourism

  • Greece saw tourist numbers bounce back but ‘they didn’t buy that much’, said the owner of several souvenir shops, lamenting the loss of Chinese and Americans
  • In Spain, establishments in Catalonia recorded an occupancy rate close to 95 per cent in August

European travellers helped plug a gap left by Asian and North American tourists stuck at home by the pandemic, staving off a total washout this year for Europe’s hospitality industry. After a disastrous 2020 tourism season, the sector had banked on vaccination campaigns and the easing of travel restrictions to see brighter days this summer.

While European visitors might have shored up numbers, the recovery was patchy, with tourists spending in different places, on different things – and not with the same largesse as the big-spending Chinese or Americans.

Fears over suddenly changing Covid-19 travel restrictions and – for the UK, especially – the cost of mandatory Covid-19 tests have also driven the disruption to travel patterns this summer.

Tourism-dependent Greece hosted more than 2 million visitors in July and August – “something we haven’t seen since 2019”, said Haris Theocharis, the tourism minister until a cabinet reshuffle in late August.

Balos beach, in Crete, Greece. Photo: Getty Images

Napolean, the owner of a bar in Athens’ Plaka tourist hotspot, said he had exceeded his targets “by more than 50 per cent” this summer. But at the nearby Byron Hotel, co-manager Zimi Mistiopoulos said they only had 10 days of full occupancy. Two years ago, there wasn’t a room to be had all season, he said.

“Even if the tourists were there, they didn’t buy that much,” said Dimitris Papachristodoulou, owner of several souvenir shops, lamenting the loss of Chinese and Americans, “who consume the most”.

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Those groups were also absent from Italy, where the Hotel Cosmopolita, in the heart of Rome, has had “an average of three or five occupied rooms out of 82”, said Walter Pecoraro, the owner and president of the hoteliers’ association of Lazio, the capital region.

“Roman tourism is 80 per cent foreign, 80 per cent of which are Americans and Asians,” he said. According to the association, 600 hotels out of 1,200 in Rome were open this summer, with average occupancy at only 30-35 per cent.

Spain, the world’s second-largest tourist destination, behind France, in 2019, welcomed 4.4 million visitors in July, 78 per cent up on a year earlier, data from its national statistics institute shows. But that’s a far cry from the 9.9 million in pre-pandemic 2019.

Travellers walk along La Rambla, in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Getty Images

The Mediterranean coast was the most favoured destination: establishments in Catalonia recorded an occupancy rate close to 95 per cent in August. The French were Spain’s top visitors, with 874,000 holidaying there, ahead of the Germans (707,000) and the British (555,000).

Brits, in pre-Covid-19 times the largest contingent, this year largely opted to stay at home. Bookings are “running at a fraction of a normal year with the main barriers to travel being concerns about the traffic light system” of colour-coded restrictions and the cost of tests, the British federation of travel agents said.

Those who decided to go anyway opted mainly for the islands of Spain and Greece.

“What stands out this summer is that very few destinations were open,” said Ana Domenech, France director of booking site “Greece was clearly the new destination of the summer, with 79 per cent more travellers than in 2019.”

Tourists visit the Eiffel Tower, in Paris, France. Photo: Getty Images

More than 450,000 French made their way to Greece this year. But as with the UK, people travelling within their own countries also created “a beautiful summer” for the domestic industry, said Sebastien Manceau, an expert in tourism at the Roland Berger consulting firm.

Of the 37 million French people who went on holiday this summer, 85 per cent stayed in the country, according to Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, junior minister for tourism.

“As the weather was capricious, some regions suffered, such as Brittany and Normandy”, to the benefit of the south of France, Manceau said.

Tourists enjoy the view at the Butte Montmartre in Paris. Photo: Getty Images

At Les Sableres campsite in Vieux-Boucau, on the southwest coast, the 500 pitches were full from mid-July to the end of August, and up to 150 requests per day had to be turned down.

We “returned to the levels of 2019, if not better”, the site’s director, Herve Labarthe, said. And the foreigners have returned – at least from within Europe: Belgians, Dutch, Germans.