Travel spending more than halved in 2020

Organised travel market hit particularly hard by the pandemic – Dramatic impact at the destinations


With an unprecedented drop in travel spending and the number of travellers, the German travel industry ends the tourism year 2019/2020 (31 October) and heads for an uncertain, unpredictable travel year 2021 – the German Travel Association (DRV) stressed when taking stock today of the past holiday year in the run-up to the world’s largest travel fair ITB Berlin, which will take place in early March. Whilst the Germans still spent EUR 69.5 billion during the record year 2019, this amount dropped to almost EUR 32 billion during the Covid-19 year -  a decline by 54 percent. This is documented by the analyses of the market research company GfK for DRV and concerns holiday and private trips from at least one night onwards which were booked before the commencement of the journey.

Of the total travel spending of EUR 32 billion, EUR 12.5 billion were accounted for by organised travel – i.e. the package and module offers of the tour operators. This corresponds to a drop by 65 percent or EUR 23 billion versus prior year (EUR 35.4 billion). “This means that the sales revenues fell back to the level of more than 30 years ago. The organised travel market has suffered particularly strongly under the pandemic”, the President of the German Travel Association, Norbert Fiebig, commented on the dimension of the historic downturn. “Two points are decisive”, Fiebig added. “The bridging allowance III is, first of all, not sufficient for sales. The fact that the travel agent commission based on the reference year 2019 is not part of the allowances, is a structural flaw. It continues to have to be remedied. Secondly, the bridging allowances must be extended intelligently – if the restart is not possible very rapidly -, to secure the structures of the travel industry.”

The spending on self-organised trips – i.e. without tour operators – fell by 43 percent to EUR 19.5 billion. This means that for the first time only 39 percent of the private and holiday trips were booked via tour of operators – in the past the share of organised travel exceeded 50 percent for many years. This decrease is due to a higher share of travel activities within Germany and the neighbouring countries such as Austria. Vacationers mostly organise these trips individually and without travel agent or tour operator.

The drop was particularly dramatic last year for the spending during the summer season, which is extremely important for the tourism industry – from EUR 46 billion during the previous year by 64 percent to EUR 16 billion. “For the around 100,000 employees of travel agents and tour operators this means that they are worried about losing their job and their livelihood – many providers and agents had already to give up during the past weeks and file for insolvency”, said DRV President Norbert Fiebig.

With the opening of European destinations in summer, travel activities increased again – nonetheless it was not possible to compensate the massive decline of the first months: the number of trips dropped by more than a third to a total of 152 million. Although Germany had a proportionately higher share in the bookings as a destination, according to the GfK analyses for DRV, in the absence of worldwide travel possibilities, the country recorded nonetheless a clear minus and was below the 2019 figures. The destinations with the highest demand within Germany were, according to the DRV Market Research Committee, the North Sea and the Baltic coasts and also Bavaria – as a result, partly overcrowded beaches and hiking trails were observed.

Cruises: 60 percent decline in spending

For cruises as a whole (river and sea cruises) the Germans spent, according to the GfK analyses, around EUR 2.4 billion – a massive plunge by 60 percent considering that this segment recorded always the highest growth rate in the tourism industry during the past years. In this connection the decline in river cruises of 65 percent versus prior year to EUR 300 million was even stronger than for sea cruises (minus 59 percent to EUR 2.1 billion). Whilst in 2019 still a total of 3.7 million people in Germany travelled on a cruise ship, there were only around 1.4 million last year – including almost 1.1 million on the sea and slightly more than 300,000 passengers on rivers.

Although many international destinations can currently not or only difficultly be visited, this will not result, according to the current assessment, in the long term in a fundamental change in travel behaviour. According to the current survey of GfK in February 2021, hardly anything has changed in respect of the popularity of the destinations. The respondents intend to travel during the coming years to Germany and, amongst others, also again to the Balearic Islands, Greece, Italy, the Canary Islands, Austria and other worldwide destinations.

A permanent absence of tourists would have a dramatic impact on the economic situation of people in the respective countries, because many destinations live almost exclusively on tourism. All over the world around 330 million jobs depend on tourism. The absence of tourists leads to socio-economic damage at the destinations – including growing poverty, more small-scale crimes, increased poaching. For many people in the holiday countries the collapse of tourism due to the pandemic means that they no longer know how they should nourish their family - not only in the less developed countries but e.g. also on the popular holiday island Mallorca, where at present already one third of the population is considered to be poor according to a study by the University of the Balearic Island.


The information on trips and sales revenues in the multi-day vacation and private travel market originates from the consumer panel (MobilitätsMonitor) of the market research company GfK. It surveys on a monthly basis, approximately 18,000 representatively selected households in Germany with approximately 36,000 persons on their travel, booking and information behaviour.

About DRV:

The German Travel Association (DRV) represents the travel industry in Germany. As a top level association DRV bundles a major economic strength. Its members represent the highest share in the sales revenues in the tour operator and travel agent market. The tourism industry offers around three million jobs. Several thousand member companies, including many tourism service providers, have turned DRV into a strong community which pools many different interests, driven by the motto “The travel industry. All destinations. One voice.”

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