By Diana Mandia and Dina Kartit
(Reuters) - The number of nights spent in tourist accommodation in the European Union in 2022 approached pre-pandemic levels, the bloc's statistics office Eurostat said on Wednesday.
The 27-nation bloc recorded 2.72 billion nights spent in tourist accommodation last year, down by only 5.6% from 2019 levels, before COVID-19 inflicted heavy losses on the tourism industry due to border closures and lockdowns.
This number is an increase of 91.1% and 48.3% from 2020 and 2021 levels, respectively. The figures cover short-stay accommodation in hotels and similar establishments, as well as camping grounds, recreational vehicle parks and trailer parks.
"The sector seems to be strongly rebounding from the COVID-19 pandemic," said Eurostat.
Domestic travel saw the strongest recovery, already exceeding pre-pandemic levels by 0.7% to 1.53 billion nights, while international tourism was still 12.6% below at 1.19 billion nights.
Among single EU states, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium saw the biggest increase in both domestic and foreign travellers, exceeding 2019 figures by 12.3%, 3.9%, and 0.5%, respectively, joined by non-EU members Liechtenstein, Iceland, and Norway.
Latvia and Slovakia were among the slowest recovering countries in terms of tourist night numbers in 2022, only recovering to slightly above 70% of 2019 levels.
Looking ahead, the year 2023 "could see international tourism arrivals return to pre-pandemic levels in Europe and the Middle East", the World Tourism Organization (WTO) said in a statement on Tuesday.
The United Nations-led agency anticipates the recovery to last throughout 2023, with the recent lifting of COVID-19-related travel restrictions in China and robust demand from the United States, supported by a strong U.S. dollar.
The UN WTO cautions, however, that the uncertain economic environment and geopolitical tensions may influence tourism behaviour, with reduced expenses, shorter trips and local travels.
(Reporting by Diana Mandiá and Dina Kartit. Editing by Sharon Singleton)