Europe’s top summer destinations risk having to wait another two years until tourist numbers return to pre-Covid levels amid tight border controls and sustained fears over the virus.
Greece, Spain and other “club Med” hotspots are likely to be visited by less than half their normal number of holidaymakers this summer despite progress on vaccines and infection numbers plummeting, according to estimates from HSBC.
Chris Hare, an economist at HSBC, estimated that tourist numbers will be between 50pc and 60pc lower than pre-pandemic levels this summer.
He said: “It is clear that the tourism season has started on the back foot. Spending by foreign tourists in Spain was only around €1bn (£860m) in Spain this March, a far cry from €15bn in 2019 and even almost €12bn last year.
“So even if the prospects for the tourism industry look brighter going forward, there is still a long way to catch up even to reach last year's levels.”
Even next year he predicts visitor levels will be down by as much as 10pc on 2019’s tourist season, meaning it will be 2023 before the eurozone’s southern members will have a normal summer.
Tourism accounts for 20pc of the Greek economy, and more than one-fifth of employment in Greece and in Portugal.
Spain and Italy are not far behind with around 15pc of jobs relating to travel.
It means a slow return to normality will drag on their recoveries for years to come.
Britons account for more visitors to Spain than citizens of any other nation, making up 15pc of all holidays in the country.
They also make up 13pc of arrivals in Portugal and just under one-in-10 travellers to Greece.
However, the UK’s “green list” of countries which can be visited without quarantine on return from 17 May, but with several potentially expensive Covid tests, is strictly limited.
So far among eurozone nations only Portugal has qualified for that coveted status.
The EU is currently restricting entry but arrival rules are expected to be changed next month. Countries including Greece have indicated they will accept tourists with proof of full vaccination, without requiring a Covid test.