The re-imposition of lockdowns and travel restrictions to combat a second wave of Covid have halted hopes of an early European tourism recovery.

The easing of pandemic restrictions across had Europe led to a slight pick-up in July and August, signalling people’s enthusiasm and desire to travel again before the reintroduction of curbs to tackle the pandemic.

The heightened uncertainty and downside risks continue to dampen the outlook with international arrivals set to decline 61% – almost one billion – by the end of the year, the European Travel Commission predicts.

Latest forecasts predict a quicker rebound for domestic travel in Europe, surpassing 2019 levels by 2022.

European short-haul arrivals are also projected to bounce back faster by 2023, helped by a swifter easing of travel restrictions and a lesser perceived risk compared to long-haul trips.

Overall travel volumes are now projected to return to pre-pandemic levels only by 2024.

“The importance of domestic and intra-European travel cannot be understated in terms of the role it will play in the recovery of the tourism sector over the coming months,” the ETC said.

The pandemic is also impacting destination choices within particular European countries.

The ETC added: “The summer season has shown a significant increase in those seeking to travel to rural and coastal locations, clearly as a result of concerns regarding visits to highly-populated urban locations, where it is more difficult to practice social distancing.

“This change in travel preferences may ultimately mitigate the issue of over-tourism and allow destinations to boost sustainable tourism demand.

“Increased travel interest for secondary destinations will relieve some popular tourist hotspots that previously struggled to cope with excessive travel demand and will help spread the economic benefits of tourism more evenly within countries.”

Mediterranean destinations Cyprus and Montenegro saw the steepest falls in arrivals in the peak three months of summer at 85% and 84% respectively, attributable to a higher dependency on foreign travellers.

Among the other countries most impacted were Turkey (-77%); Portugal, Serbia (both -74%), Iceland and Malta (both -71%).

ETC executive director Eduardo Santander said: “As the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic grips Europe and in advance of the winter season, it is now more important than ever that European nations join forces to agree on common solutions, not only to curb the spread of the virus but also to support tourism’s sustainable recovery, restore travellers’ confidence, and most importantly protect the millions of businesses, jobs, and enterprises that are at risk, so they can survive the economic fallout.

“The direction of the economic recovery across Europe will depend significantly on the recovery of the tourism sector, a sector which generates close to 10% of the EU’s GDP and accounts for over 22 million jobs.”