Albania and Montenegro tipped to be next top European destinations

Albania and Montenegro have been tipped to be the next top popular European destinations, according to European travel experts.

David Goodger, EMEA managing director at Tourism Economics, suggests that Albania and Montenegro are set to be “the big leisure destinations now and for the next couple of years” because, he says, “they’ve done a fantastic job at investing, building up capacity, linkages, and selling themselves to the wider world”.

European Travel Commission (ETC) data from earlier this year showed Montenegro was among the destinations leading Europe’s recovery, with a 12% increase in demand, and a 43% increase in arrivals from the US market.

Meanwhile, Lyublena Dimova, senior research manager at the ETC, suggests that Austria is also a safe bet due to its moderate climate and good connectivity.

Being able to guarantee good weather for a trip is easier when staying closer to home, she points out, which is another factor sustaining the resilience of the staycation trend. “It’s easy to be spontaneous when it comes to closer destinations,” she says. Particularly among younger, more affluent travellers, she argues that the rise of alternative lodgings like yurts, treehouses and cliff cabins are also drawing these travellers to explore more local destinations.

According to ETC data, favourable weather conditions are a key determiner of where travellers choose to travel, and while a recent survey ranked extreme weather as the sixth highest concern for travellers, “we are expecting that these kind of worries will continue increasing” due to the impact of climate change, says Dimova.

Sustainability sustaining bleisure

In the face of climate-related extreme weather events, sustainability is a priority for travellers and contributing to the strength of the ‘bleisure’ trend. Goodger says that people are “taking fewer trips but doing more while they’re there”, while Dimova says the increased flexibility in working conditions post-Covid is also allowing people to add on remote working days to their holidays.

“Travellers are more and more aware [of sustainability]... but it’s very hard to quantify the exact importance,” she says.

“We have these travellers that come from long haul source markets, taking a flight, therefore generating a massive amount of emissions, but once they are here they will choose the most sustainable accommodation, the best activities that are good for communities, but they will not compromise on the flight. And then we have people who are just travelling to the next city, not generating emissions, but they are not behaving sustainably within the destination. It’s very hard to put all travellers into the same basket because sustainability and sustainable choices may have occurred during different stages of the travel journey.”

While international travel into Europe continues to lag, optimism for the fourth quarter of 2024 is “really high”, says Goodger. “Next year is when we’re starting to see both domestic and international travel pushing back above those 2019 levels,” he says, adding that it is time to stop talking about recovery and shift the conversation onto growth.

However, there are challenges for the travel sector to overcome despite the positive indicators, and Goodger points out that staffing issues “could be a constraint” on destinations trying to make the most of demand, and while airlift appears to not be “too much of a challenge... it’s not universally back” and may be a limiting factor for some destinations.

Other challenges include inflation, the war in Ukraine, and overcrowding. Growth currently continues to be driven by domestic and short-haul travel, with long-haul “still going to be lagging for years to come”, says Goodger – particularly long-haul business travel. Although Chinese tourists have started to return, Dimova highlights that “this market will not recover overnight”, with issues such as the high youth unemployment rate a concern. This group is also expected to initially prioritise domestic and neighbouring destinations before they return to travelling further afield.

Travel still a priority and people willing to spend on it

But despite cost pressures, just 20% of people said they were likely to decrease their travel budgets, according to an ETC survey, and some are even planning to increase it. Instead, those concerned about costs are adopting budgeting measures before and during their trips that will allow them to “maximise their experience while still keeping within their available budget”, says Dimova.

Pre-holiday tactics include travelling off-season, choosing more affordable destinations, booking activities early, securing low cost and/or last-minute flight deals, and packing light. Travellers are also adapting their behaviour once they arrive at their destination, with the most popular choice to make fewer purchases and shop less, on top of choosing less expensive restaurants, self-catering, or all-inclusive packages, doing fewer activities with admission fees, opting for less expensive accommodation, going out to bars and nightclubs less, and using public transport or renting a bike.

“We’re seeing people really prioritising travel,” agrees Goodger, pointing out that many people are “still sitting on large amounts of cash” that built up during the pandemic. “When we look at where that spending is going, it is going on leisure travel,” he says.

“People will continue to travel despite some rising prices – destinations and businesses should not be afraid to increase prices,” he adds. “People are still willing to spend highly on leisure and accommodation.”

However, warns Dimova: “I think our industry should become much more attentive to the small details that can flip overnight and change the future for all of us.”

All those quoted in the article appeared on stage at the Resort & Residential (R&R) Hospitality Forum held in Lisbon between October 9 and 11, in a session called: Travel Advice: Staying Ahead of Travel Flows and Trends.