Number of foreign tourists drops to 20-year low

A sign at the Port of Tallinn reading:
A sign at the Port of Tallinn reading: "Everything is the same as before. Only with a little more space." Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The number of foreign tourists visiting Estonia in 2020 fell to a level last seen 20 years ago, the Estonian Tourist Board at Enterprise Estonia (EAS) said in a survey on accommodation services and Airbnb for 2020.

Where in the first two months of last year the tourism sector hit new records just like it has done for the past several years, the months of the pandemic pushed the figures down so much that for the full-year, a nearly 50 percent drop in the number of tourists and overnight stays was registered. Stayovers by domestic tourists dropped by 12 percent and stayovers by international tourists by almost 70 percent.

The last time foreign tourist numbers were so low was in the years 1999 and 2000, when Estonia was not yet a member of the European Union and had not been discovered as a travel destination in Europe and beyond.

Altogether 1.97 million tourists stayed at the accommodation establishments of Estonia during 2020, spending 3.7 million nights in total here. Stayovers by foreign tourists numbered 1.4 million, compared with 1.3 million stayovers in 1999 and 1.6 million in 2000. The number of stayovers by domestic tourists, 2.27 million, was comparable with 2016, when stayovers by domestic tourists numbered 2.21 million.

"The world went home, and the same happened also in Estonia. Where usually the share of export in Estonian tourism is high, meaning that international tourism accounts for two-thirds and domestic tourism for one-third, last year things were the other way round," Liina Maria Lepik, director of the Estonian Tourist Board, said.

The only foreign countries arrivals from which increased in a couple of summer months after the first wave of the pandemic were Latvia and Lithuania, which also registered the smallest reductions year over year - over 40 percent. The Finnish market, which started off 2020 with an increase of more than 20 percent in the two first months of the year, fell far into negative territory and stayed there until the end of the year.  

Over the year, stayovers by Finnish tourists dropped by 65 percent, stayovers by Russian tourists by 70 percent and stayovers by German and British tourists by 72 percent.

The performance of the various regions of Estonia depended on the share of foreign tourists. The bigger the share of international tourism, the bigger was the reduction in tourist numbers seen by a region in 2020.

Consequently, the biggest fall was registered in the capital Tallinn - by 63 percent in the number of overnight stays, whereas the island of Hiiumaa registered a 4 percent increase in stayovers on the back of a large percentage of domestic tourism.

When leaving aside stayovers by international tourists, also the counties of Pärnu, Lääne and Jõgeva registered increases, but not in overall tourist numbers.

A similar pattern could be observed in Airbnb, where the biggest reduction occurred in Harju County, whereas increases were registered in regions where supply is low, such as in Järva and Põlva counties.

In Estonia on the whole, accommodation by Airbnb grew faster before the pandemic than at accommodation companies, taking away market from the latter. Supply in Airbnb in Estonia has doubled in three years from 2,000 spaces in 2017 to almost 4,000 spaces at the beginning of last year.

During last year, supply and demand fell back to the level of 2017. 


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Editor: Helen Wright

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