Europe travel budget Travel Research

European travel statistics for international arrivals and spend

Bits of information that passed by my eyes this week when studying travel economics for different countries in Europe as potential travel destinations revealed some interesting patterns. These are kind of random pieces of information that stuck with me after several days. The catalyst for looking at tourism numbers is wondering where the least touristed countries are in Europe, what the cost of living is in different places and where are there good balances between the cost of hotels, cost of living, tourist infrastructure and safety. For example, Croatia has some highly rated national parks, but like the USA, it can be difficult to reach some of these places on public transportation. Switzerland has fantastic public transportation infrastructure, but the cost to take a plane can be less than the cost of a train in Switzerland to travel 100 miles.

France is the most visited country in the world with over 84 million international arrivals.  USA is #2 with only 75 million. Spain is the 3rd most visited country in the world with about 60.6 million arrivals. (2015 data World Economic Forum using 2013 World Bank data).

Moldova is the least visited country in Europe with 11,000 to 96,000 international tourist arrivals, depending on source. Belarus is one of the most difficult countries to enter in Europe as a tourist and arrivals there are under 150,000 per year. Iceland has expanded tourist arrivals rapidly with WOW Air and the island nation will probably surpass one million arrivals in 2016.

World Bank International Tourism, number of arrivals in Europe.

USA = 75.011 million international arrivals for same data reporting period as shown below.

  1. France 83.767 million
  2. Spain 64.995 million
  3. Italy 48.576 million
  4. Turkey 39.811 million
  5. Germany 32.999 million
  6. United Kingdom 32.613 million
  7. Russia 32.421 million
  8. Austria 25.291 million
  9. Greece 22.033 million
  10. Poland 16.000 million
  11. Netherlands 13.925 million
  12. Ukraine 12.712 million
  13. Hungary 12.140 million
  14. Croatia 11.623 million
  15. Czech Republic 10.617 million
  16. Switzerland 9.158 million
  17. Denmark 10.267 million
  18. Portugal 9.092 million
  19. Ireland 8.813 million
  20. Romania 8.442 million
  21. Belgium 7.887 million
  22. Bulgaria 7.311 million
  23. Slovakia 6.235 million
  24. Sweden 5.660 million
  25. Norway 4.855 million
  26. Finland 4.226 million
  27. Albania 3.341 million
  28. Estonia 2.918 million
  29. Cyprus 2.441 million
  30. Slovenia 2.411 million
  31. Andorra 2.353 million
  32. Lithuania 2.063 million
  33. Latvia 1.843 million
  34. Malta 1.690 million
  35. Montenegro 1.350 million
  36. Serbia 1.029 million
  37. Iceland 998,000
  38. Bosnia and Herzegovina 536,000
  39. Macedonia 425,000
  40. Monaco 329,000
  41. Belarus 137,000
  42. San Marino 75,000
  43. Liechtenstein 54,000
  44. Moldova 11,000

In a survey of Norwegian Airlines routes, I found the airline flies to most of these places.

Loyalty Traveler – Norwegian Airlines flies between 30 countries in Europe (April 24).

World Economic Forum Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2015

There are a couple of sources for tourism spend, cost of tourism index, and lists of most expensive and least expensive cities. Many of the articles I read used same travel data statistics I found in the World Economic Forum Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report. The two most useful pieces of data for me are the visitor arrivals and Competitive Price Index. There is also average visitor spend for each country, but that is less useful since a country like Moldova shows higher spend than Switzerland. The price index seems to be a more useful data point for comparing relative cost of travel in different countries.

Switzerland is Expensive by Most Measures 

Switzerland is ranked as the most expensive country for a tourist to visit by many surveys. One of these rankings is the World Economic Forum Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2015. That global survey of countries gives the USA a rank of 4.27 for Price Competitiveness.

The lower the number, the more expensive travel is for the country. The lowest numbers in Europe are 2.57 for Switzerland, 2.73 for UK and 2.95 for France. Only Canada 3.63 and Barbados 3.58 are countries in the Americas with a Price Competitive Index under 4.00,  meaning these countries are likely to seem expensive compared to USA prices for Americans traveling through the country.

My impression looking over European countries is any place indexed under 4.00 will likely seem expensive to most Americans.

Most western European countries have a competitive price index in the 3.0-3.7 range. Only Luxembourg 4.10, Malta 4.22, Portugal 4.23 and Spain 4.22 have a Price Competitiveness Index above 4.00. The cost of food and living for a week in western Europe probably costs more than an American normally spends to eat and get around. Transportation is another major expense since point-to-point individual tickets for city transportation tend to be far higher priced than multiple day passes when staying put in an area.

Among other high priced countries in Europe are Norway 3.23, Denmark 3.31 and Sweden 3.38. These are countries where I have spent several weeks as a tourist over the past two years. Don’t fret about Iceland 3.59. You might find better value there than in Oslo, Copenhagen or Stockholm. Finland at 3.71 is comparable to Ireland 3.69.

For comparison, European countries with lowest Price Competitive Index are Russia 4.99. Poland 4.94 and Lithuania 4.87.

On my trip this month to Lithuania, we were able to shop for groceries and beer, buy hot roasted chicken every day, eat a restaurant meal most days with beer, and pay for all our ground transportation for around $25 per day for two people and cats.


This is what $25 bought in Stockholm a couple days later.

Quality ARN food

In Stockholm my $25 USD bought package smoked salmon, 1/2 chicken, 3 Cokes and a baguette. These same items would be about $12.50 to $18 USD in an Amsterdam market and about $9 in Vilnius, Lithuania (salmon is very expensive in Vilnius relative to chicken).

Last week I looked at prices for traveling around the Adriatic Sea to places like Corfu, Greece and Albania 4.38, Montenegro 4.48, Croatia 4.28, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia 4.56 and Slovenia 4.34. The prices looked low for travel and expenses in these places, especially if you are willing to stay in private home B&B type lodging where nightly rates are widely available for under $30 per night. Hotel rates are not much of a bargain compared to the other costs for a tourist in these places. These are all countries with Price Competitive Index rankings higher than the USA 4.27 index, meaning travel should seem relatively inexpensive compared to USA prices.

Oslo still #1 most expensive city? I don’t think so in 2016.

Oslo, Norway and Zurich, Switzerland were ranked # 1 and #2 most expensive cities for a tourist in 2015 surveys. Oslo has become less expensive for Americans in the past year due to currency exchange fluctuation. The U.S. Dollar is worth around 25% more than a year ago in Norway. The Norwegian economy is fueled to a large degree on oil exports and low oil prices have weakened the Norwegian currency. That likely means Zurich and Geneva will rise in 2016 lists of the world’s most expensive cities for a tourist.

This is best explained by my personal experience of traveling to Oslo, Norway the first time in March 2013 and getting blown away by high cost of food – by USA standards. I was shocked to see the price of a meal started around $30 to $40 at any food place for something like a hamburger or burrito. A Big Mac at McDonald’s was priced around $19 in Oslo.

For two weeks in September 2014, I traveled 13 nights around 3 cities in Norway, including 5 nights in Oslo, with a two-night stay at TripAdvisor’s #1 ranked luxury hotel at the time – The Thief. The entire trip cost less than $1,300 for all hotels, transportation and expenses for two weeks. A bit over 200,000 Choice Privileges points I had purchased for around $850 through Daily Getaways paid for more than $5,000 in hotel rooms by the local rate Nordic Choice Hotel prices.

This summer I plan to spend a week in Switzerland for under $150 per day including all hotels. Seven nights in Switzerland hotels will cost $500 using Best Western Rewards points and Wyndham Rewards points with GoFast rates, including the cost to buy 41,000 points in these two programs. That leaves me a budget of $500 for transportation, activities and food for seven nights/eight days across Switzerland. Tight, but doable as a tourist. Simply need to avoid the restaurant dinner with wine.


  • Peter s May 2, 2016

    Good analysis. Thanks

  • William May 2, 2016

    Once again, helpful info. For years, I’ve put off visiting Switzerland, due to it’s reputation for high prices. I travel far fewer days than you, so I’m burning a bunch of points for ten nights in three upper-midscale hotels: 1 night at the Zurich Marriott, 5 nights at the Lucern Renaissance and 4 nights at the Basel Radisson Blu. (The trip concludes with three nights in Strasbourg and CDG, before flying home.) In an attempt to cap travel expenses, I purchased the Swiss 8 day pass, which cost something like $380, and provides unlimited access to most trains, city trams and buses, lake boats and some 400 museums.

  • Ric Garrido May 3, 2016

    @William – Radisson Blu Basel is another hotel I considered for 2-for-1 rates. Still do not have a tickets for Switzerland, but I will probably travel Milan to Geneva. Geneva and Basel are the lowest priced entry airports in Switzerland for my itinerary.

  • Ric Garrido May 3, 2016

    On of the best pieces on found on Swiss Rail Travel is Rick Steves. Wish I’d seen it before I had done all my own analyses. The article looks good to me since it covers just about every detail I learned after a few days studying Swiss Rail.

    The best deal I found for Swiss trains is to buy a 120 CHF Half-Fare Pass and then book trains as soon as the special discount window opens online (I think two weeks before date?) and the fares are discounted even more than 50%. This is an option you only see once you have selected a route for purchase, then a list of even lower special fares appear with discounts for certain times of day for that route. Looks like this gives about 75% off regular ticket price, bringing some 100CHF and higher tickets down to 30 to 40 CHF.

  • eponymous coward May 3, 2016

    I think many of these strategies work well for Germany as well (even the Netherlands). It is fairly easy to buy train tickets that allow for interesting itineraries (I’ve gone Leipzig-stop at FRA to drop off luggage at FRA Sheraton-Köln for an afternoon-FRA on one 29 euro train ticket before).

    This is my European itinerary for July 2016:

    Berlin: Hotel 38, €147,, three nights
    (if I wanted I could upscale this hotel)
    €19 ticket Berlin-Hamburg
    Hamburg: The Reichshof, USD $110 + 24,000 Hilton points,
    €39 ticket on EasyJet, Hamburg-Amsterdam (exit row)
    Amsterdam: Ramada Apollo Amsterdam, $66 + 3,000 Wyndham points on a Go Fast award (you know this one already)
    €29 ticket Amsterdam-Dusseldorf
    Ibis Dusseldorf Hbf, $110 for two nights thanks to a 50% off Accor deal, visit friends in Köln and fly out of DUS

    Supplemented with enough döner kebab, currywurst and groceries to save on eating out at expensive places, I suspect I can do what you’re doing in Switzerland as well.

  • Ric Garrido May 3, 2016

    I was happy to hear my wife say she wants to visit Germany too. I have had three solo trips to Germany in the past 16 years and I’d love to share the German experience with Kelley. We had one short stay in Dusseldorf over that period and she slept through the Rhine River valley train ride as I was pointing out places I had been with stories from my high school days in Wiesbaden.

    Germany is one of the most overlooked travel places in Europe for deal hunting Americans. I considered blowing off Switzerland for Germany, and I was really tempted to head into the western Czech hills. Instead, I thought I’d take advantage of the September late summer season to get high in the Alps, hopefully before snow arrives.

Comments are closed.