LONDON Tourists are heading back to Europe, and the recovery is showing up in everything from rising hotel bookings to tax-free shopping and air traffic, leading to a brighter earnings outlook for travel and leisure companies.
A rebound in emerging markets is bringing visitors from countries like China, Brazil and Russia to continental Europe, while a weaker pound since Britain voted to leave the European Union has boosted UK tourism. And despite the sagging pound, travel from the UK also remains healthy, an HSBC survey showed.
"International travel both to and from emerging markets has been growing, while average spend per trip has also been increasing. For hotels, the revenue per available room has improved in Europe and the UK," said Jeff Meys, head of optimised portfolio strategies at NN Investment Partners.
The pan-European STOXX 600 travel and leisure sub-index .SXTP, which includes hoteliers, airlines, brewers and bookmakers, is up 2 percent so far this year, after dropping 11 percent in 2016. Travel stocks have outperformed the pan-European STOXX index over the past three months.
Security fears after attacks on Paris in January and November 2015 and in Nice the following July dampened tourists' appetite for France. That cost French hotels an estimated $675 million in lost revenue over 2016, the research firm MKG said in January.
But France saw tourist numbers grow in the fourth quarter, figures from the national statistics agency showed, indicating a return to health.
The improvement in travel was apparent in the latest earnings at companies such as Spain's Amadeus (AMA.MC), which provides booking systems for airlines, and Eurostar operator Groupe Eurotunnel (GETP.PA).
Merlin Entertainments (MERL.L), which runs London's Madame Tussauds waxworks and more than 100 other attractions, said earlier this month a weak pound was drawing tourists back to London, reporting a jump in visitors from the EU in November and December.
The pound has fallen 11 percent against the euro and 17 percent against the U.S. dollar since Britain voted to leave the European Union in June.
Luxury goods makers Prada, LVMH and Hugo Boss all cited higher tourist spending and increased inflows from Asia in their results.
Analyst sentiment on earnings in the sector has improved significantly from last year, Thomson Reuters data shows: reut.rs/2nd49S3
Tax-deductible shopping in Europe, a measure of tourist spending, grew 21 percent in January, the second straight month of growth after a year of decline, figures from Global Blue, a tourism tax refund company, showed. An earlier-than-usual Chinese New Year delivered a surge of Chinese visitors in late January, Global Blue said.
Tax-free shopping in France grew 20 percent, while sales in Italy and Germany rose for the first time in a year. Sales in Britain grew 45 percent in January, with average spending also increasing as tourists took advantage of the cheaper pound. Europe's capitals vie for high-spending tourists. Spain's capital Madrid is banking on developing its luxury shopping and culture credentials to attract more high-spending Chinese tourists.
"It's been very much a tale of Spain and the periphery, which are usually weak, but they have swung back very hard," said Jonathan Frearon, European equities manager at Standard Life Investments.
Increased air travel into and within Europe has also underpinned investor enthusiasm for shares of companies that operate airlines and airports in the region.
British Airways owner IAG (ICAG.L) reported increased traffic for February, and budget airlines Easyjet (EZJ.L) and Ryanair (RYA.I) saw an increase in passengers of 8 to 10 percent for the month compared to last year.
UBS analysts said it expected strong growth in the first half of 2017 for the Spanish airport network of Aena (AENA.MC), the bank's preferred company in the airports sector.
Shares of Fraport (FRAG.DE), the operator of Frankfurt's airport, are back to late 2015 highs. Along with prospects of growth, the shares also offer a stable dividend, adding to their attraction for investors looking to capture the revival in European tourism and business travel.
(Reporting by Helen Reid, editing by Larry King)