Let's identify the key points and trends in tourism in Estonia in 2021.
Estonians were more in favour of domestic tourism in 2021 – overnight stays by domestic tourists increased by 5% compared to the previous record set in 2019. Domestic travel interest did not wane in the summer and autumn when it became increasingly easier to travel abroad. Our research backs up this claim, indicating that Estonians' interest in travelling abroad does not hinder their interest in domestic tourism. Not at all – those wishing to travel abroad also look to travel domestically.
Overnight stays by foreign tourists in accommodation establishments fell by 71% compared to 2019. Those numbers were the same as in 1999. Foreign tourism also fell compared to 2020, because travel was very limited as a result of the pandemic in the first half of 2021. Vaccinated individuals were able to start travelling in the summer, but the recovery was quite slow – mainly because most people were not fully vaccinated yet or they were still being cautious. Some countries still had travel restrictions as well (such as Russia). Finland and Russia are the principal markets for Estonia. Russia had travel restrictions and Finland was generally very cautious. People are still not permitted to cross the land border from the Russian side as a result of Russian travel restrictions. Individuals can only enter for medical treatment or similar special reasons, but not for a vacation. However, a large part of our tourism sector is made up of people travelling by car from Saint Petersburg. The amount of Finns travelling here fell as much as 82% in summer of 2021 compared to 2019.
Foreign tourism decline in Estonia can be compared with the overall global trend: According to the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) data, the average drop in foreign tourism was 72% globally.
Tourism from Latvia and Lithuania also fell compared to 2020, even in the summer months. While tourism from Latvia and Lithuania grew in the summer of 2020 as a consequence of "the Baltic Bubble", by the summer of 2021, people who were fully vaccinated could pick between various European destinations and there was no longer a significant advantage in travelling within the Baltics.
On a positive note, interest from more distant European countries grew in the second half of 2021. Spain, France and Belgium are all small markets for Estonia, but their numbers in the slow months of November and December were better compared to 2019. Visit Estonia's crisis marketing has followed suit – looking for global opportunities and digitally marketing it whenever an opportunity opens up. We marketed in Israel for the first time in 2021, because people were travelling from there thanks to their world-leading vaccination rates.
Statistics Estonia press release
It should be noted that multi-day stays both ways were longer than ever before. The average length of a trip was over four nights for foreigners visiting Estonia as well as Estonians visiting foreign countries.
One-day stays fell both ways, with a larger decline in inbound tourism. This is understandable, as most one-day stays in Estonia mainly come from Finland, which showed significant declines in general. One-day stays usually account for approximately 50% of visits to Estonia, but last year they made up 38%.
The pandemic in its entirety had more of an impact on foreign travel to Estonia as opposed to Estonians travelling abroad in 2021.
Bank of Estonia (Eesti Pank) notice
Bank of Estonia's (Eesti Pank) provisional data indicates that foreign tourists spent 417 million euros in Estonia in 2021, which is 10 million more than in 2020, but a billion euros less than in the record breaking year of 2019. Estonians spent 395 million euros in foreign countries in 2021, which is 800 million euros less than 2019, but 15 million euros more than 2020. That is the same amount Estonians spent in foreign countries in 2009. Further details on tourism revenue (including transport of travellers) will be made available on 10 March 2021.
The number of short-term rental accommodations has decreased at every turn during the crisis. If we take the month of July, the peak month for rentals, as a comparison point, then in 2019 there were more than 9000 of them, but in July 2021 there were only 7600. Supply has primarily decreased in Tallinn, but there has been a positive recovery in other counties.
It is notable that while the number of rental accommodations has decreased, the total income from short-term rentals has increased: It was 56 million euros in 2019, fell to 38 million euros in 2020 and increased to 62 million euros in 2021. The total revenue of Tallinn's providers in 2021 was 15% lower than in 2019, while outside Tallinn that number was up to 54% higher than in 2019.
The revenue grew, but the number of accommodations decreased – how can that be explained? The first explanation is that many short-term rental accommodations providers left the market and started renting on a long-term basis; therefore, the remaining providers were evidently able to raise their prices. The second explanation is that there were more overnight stays in larger rental accommodations. As their market share is approximately one-fifth, a third reason may be that clients generally preferred to spend a night in a private rented accommodation spot as opposed to an accommodation establishment.
The number of booked nights increased as well, somewhat because the average length of stay has been much longer since autumn 2020. This indicates that there may have been a number of clients who used these rental accommodations for urgent or unusual reasons.
Estonians accounted for over 60% of clients across the first half of 2021. Foreign tourism began picking up pace in August, including from more distant countries and not just neighbouring ones. Estonians constituted for one-third of clients between August 2021 and December 2021.
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