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.
USA = 75.011 million international arrivals for same data reporting period as shown below.
- France 83.767 million
- Spain 64.995 million
- Italy 48.576 million
- Turkey 39.811 million
- Germany 32.999 million
- United Kingdom 32.613 million
- Russia 32.421 million
- Austria 25.291 million
- Greece 22.033 million
- Poland 16.000 million
- Netherlands 13.925 million
- Ukraine 12.712 million
- Hungary 12.140 million
- Croatia 11.623 million
- Czech Republic 10.617 million
- Switzerland 9.158 million
- Denmark 10.267 million
- Portugal 9.092 million
- Ireland 8.813 million
- Romania 8.442 million
- Belgium 7.887 million
- Bulgaria 7.311 million
- Slovakia 6.235 million
- Sweden 5.660 million
- Norway 4.855 million
- Finland 4.226 million
- Albania 3.341 million
- Estonia 2.918 million
- Cyprus 2.441 million
- Slovenia 2.411 million
- Andorra 2.353 million
- Lithuania 2.063 million
- Latvia 1.843 million
- Malta 1.690 million
- Montenegro 1.350 million
- Serbia 1.029 million
- Iceland 998,000
- Bosnia and Herzegovina 536,000
- Macedonia 425,000
- Monaco 329,000
- Belarus 137,000
- San Marino 75,000
- Liechtenstein 54,000
- 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.
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.