Europe recorded a 70% fall in international arrivals in 2020, the European Tourism Commission (ETC) has reported.

The ETC’s latest European Tourism Trends & Prospects report forecast a “gradual recovery” in 2021 and a return to the levels of 2019 by 2023 following the worst year for international tourism to Europe in more than three decades.

ETC executive director Eduardo Santander predicted “a slow restart of travel across Europe in the spring, with a gradual return to a ‘new normality’ through summer and autumn 2021”.

He said: “A return to travel will happen with new consumer habits, calling for agile responses from the sector. Potential travellers are likely to travel more slowly, closer to home and to lesser-known destinations.”

The fall in international arrivals ranged country by country from 51% to 85%.

Destinations most reliant on international tourism suffered the steepest falls, with Montenegro suffering an 85% decline and Cyprus 84%.

Spain recorded a 77% decline in international visitors. However, Austria saw only a 53% decline, although it was forced to introduce a blanket tourism ban in early 2021.

The ETC noted many hotels remained closed throughout most of 2020, despite an easing of restrictions on domestic travel which provided business to hotels that remained open before the second wave of Covid-19.

The report suggests predictions of a collapse in business travel “are unlikely to materialise” despite a slower recovery of the sector. It forecasts a return of international business travel to pre-coronavirus levels by 2024, with domestic business travel recovering by 2023.