Forschung aktuell, Vol. 30, No. 218, 16.09.2009

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Stiftung für Zukunftsfragen (Foundation for Future Studies) publishes new European survey

Stiftung für Zukunftsfragen (Foundation for Future Studies) publishes new European survey

Only a few Europeans still afford to take holiday.
Consumer spending in times of crisis

Taking holiday means travelling. This is no longer the case for most Europeans. Just a third of those asked (33%) spent money on a holiday of at least five days in the last twelve months. This is according to the latest representative survey conducted by the German BAT Stiftung für Zukunftsfragen, in which over 12,000 persons from the age of 14 and in the ten European countries of Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Poland, Russia, Spain and Switzerland were asked about their spending behaviour. “Not a single branch has been left unaffected by the economic and financial crisis – not even the travel industry. Many people are uneasy and simply do not know how the economic situation will develop in the future. As a consequence, many have spent ‘the most beautiful weeks of the year’ at home”, says Dr Ulrich Reinhardt, the foundation’s tourism and Europe expert.

Visits to restaurants preferred over the theatre.
Spending is especially down in the area of culture

When money is tight, people start to once again ask the age-old questions: What is important in life? And what can I do without if necessary? The only areas where most Europeans don’t cut on spending is “Mobile Phones” (53%) and “Eating Out” (54%). On the contrary, people are increasingly spending less in the area of culture. Case in point: in the last twelve months, only every fifth of those asked has been to the theatre and only every seventh has enjoyed a concert (13%), museum (14%) or theme park (16%) visit. Europeans hardly spent any money even on cinema tickets (37%), a short holiday trip of two or four days (32%) or a sports event (18%). However, much more money is now spent on domestic leisure offers. In all of Europe, magazines (48%), CDs/DVDs (43%) and books (42%) have gained in popularity. Dr Ulrich Reinhardt explains: “The people don’t know how much they can continue to afford and in times of crisis, choose to spend money on lower-cost offers for home.”

Among Europeans, the Brits, Finns and Swiss are the happiest to consume

Consumer spending in Europe is sending mixed messages. In Great Britain, Finland and Switzerland, the people clearly pay less attention to the amount of their spending than in the rest of Europe. In 17 of the 20 areas in question, the Brits spend more money than the average European. The pound changes hands in uncertain times especially when it comes to books (+18 percentage points), computers (+17), restaurant (+16) and theatre visits (+17). In contrast, the Polish, Russians and Italians are holding back in all areas. The majority of them have not spent money in the last twelve months on any of the 20 undertakings listed. Compared internationally, the Germans are surprisingly frugal: the majority of them only afford eating out (65%), magazines (62%) and mobile phone costs (55%).

Divided Consumers – Divided Europe

Whether it was the oil crisis in the 1970s, the US savings crisis in the 1980s, the Asian crisis in the 1990s or the dotcom bust in the early 2000s – Europeans are now more experienced in crises than ever and yet show a change in behaviour. The fear of losing affluence as well as worries about the future are much more pronounced than in the past. The result is a possible threefold division in the area of consuming:

  1. Division among the countries: a few will ride the crisis out and end up stronger, while others will continue to feel the effects for many years. The standard of living between the individual European nations will only balance out very slowly.
  2. Division within the individual countries: in the future, society threatens to split into those who earn well and those who are on the verge of poverty. The middle class will live with the fear of slipping into poverty and increasingly dissipate.
  3. Division within the population: consumers are just as in control of saving as they are of spending. What is spent over the weekend has to be saved during the week. And if you want to take holiday, you won’t be able to buy a new car. Thus, the offers are as follows: cheap and expensive products, with increasingly fewer offers in the middle price range.

Dr Ulrich Reinhardt: “We need to counteract this threefold division. What is needed is a new way of thinking within politics and the economy as well as in the media and the minds of each and every person. From better conditions, long-term job security and the obligation to provide information to more pro-active behaviour of each European. Then the crisis can also be a time of opportunity.”