Travel to the Balkans is set to benefit from increased demand for short-haul destinations, higher consumer spending and a relatively rapid vaccine rollout in the region.
Numbers could surpass pre-pandemic levels by 2023, according to travel analyst Tourism Economics.
Research presented at Balkans-focused trade show New Deal Europe found travel to the region had rebounded more slowly than the rest of Europe in summer 2020, but fared better in the final three months of last year, when more stringent restrictions were imposed across the rest of the continent stalling the restart of travel.
Predictions for 2021 suggest travel to the Balkans will resume in line with the rest of Europe, ahead of the pace of recovery for travel to worldwide destinations.
Helen McDermott, director of global forecasting for Tourism Economics – part of economic analyst Oxford Economics – said: “As restrictions ease, as vaccine distribution continues, economic growth recovers, we will see that travel recovery begin.”
Serbia, Slovenia and Albania are leading vaccination efforts in the region, expected to reach the milestone figure of having 70% of their populations vaccinated by the end of this year. All but two Balkan states – North Macedonia and Bulgaria, whose current vaccination rates lag behind the rest of the region – are set to reach the same level in 2022.
McDermott added that vaccines would not be the only factor in restarting travel, with testing, vaccine passports, travel corridors and other measures likely to play a part.
She said: “We do not expect long-haul travel to recover immediately. We expect there to be a drag on long-haul recovery, with [the pandemic’s] effects on sentiments, on confidence and economic effects in terms of affordability of longer-haul travel.
“Closer-to-home destinations will be a more popular choice for any international travel this year, so short-haul and mid-haul travel will be very important for the recovery.”
McDermott predicted a swift economic recovery with a 6% rise in global economic activity this year, the fastest pace of growth in 40 years. But she cautioned that while global GDP could return to 2019 levels by 2022, the effects of pent-up demand and higher household savings would not last, meaning longer-term fallout from the recession could see global GDP drop to 2% below pre-pandemic levels by 2025.
Research conducted by national newspaper publisher News UK into the Balkans also found 21% of readers of The Times and 12% of The Sun readers had visited the region in the past five years, with Croatia the most popular destination. Mainland Greece, Montenegro, Slovenia and Bulgaria were also among the most-visited spots.
New Deal Europe, for which Travel Weekly is media partner, brought together around 130 suppliers from the Balkans and 230 buyers from the UK and Europe with more than 3,100 appointments taking place via a virtual platform.