Europeans give up holiday travel as economic austerity bites: Study

PARIS (AFP) - Fewer Europeans are planning to go away for a summer holiday as economic austerity bites, a new study shows, with levels of foreign vacation travel at their lowest for eight years.

No more than 54 per cent of Europeans are planning to get away for summer holiday this year, according to the Ipsos-Europ Assistance "holiday barometer" published on Thursday.

Europ Assistance Group CEO Martin Vial said there was "a clear correlation between the intensity of the slump and holiday intentions".

Unsurprisingly the countries with the highest unemployment rates were the worst hit.

"The scope of the crisis in Spain and Italy is particularly visible in departure plans," the report said, with fewer than one in two Spaniards planning to leave on holiday this summer and little more than half of Italians.

Due to "less tense" economic and social situations the departure plans for Germans and Austrians had stabilised, according to the study.

For the first time since the economic crisis began, the French are particularly affected this year, it said.

While 62 per cent of them say they want to leave on holiday this year, this is still eight points down on last year and the lowest rate since 2005.

At least the stay-at-home French can comfort themselves on remaining in the leading destination chosen by Europeans.

The country is set this year to welcome 18 per cent of European tourists, the study says, followed closely by Italy with Spain, on 14 per cent, in third place.

The Internet and social networks are being used more than ever for vacation preparations, with the British holidaymakers most active on the Internet, followed by the Belgians, French and Germans.

The British have also retained their enthusiasm for foreign travel, being the only country studied where the intentions to leave on a summer holiday are going up this year, from 51 per cent to 56 per cent.

Ipsos conducted the study talking to a total of 4,048 Europeans from Austria, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.