Before the summer, the tourism industry, stakeholder organisations and the European Union institutions all worked hard to re-start tourism during the most important season of the year. However, we now realise, besides the positive experiences and solutions we have achieved, that the Coronavirus remains with us and that we should get used to living with it for some time.
The COVID-19 crisis has directly affected the tourism industry and can only be dealt with effectively by a coordinated approach. Travel restrictions put in place to mitigate the spread of the virus have severely impacted the tourism industry, a sector that directly and indirectly employs 27 million people and accounts for more than 10 percent of EU GDP.
Many jobs have already been lost while others remain in jeopardy. Trust in travel has all but disappeared from the world. The European Commission must recognise its role and help Member States coordinate. A harmonised approach is needed, one without ad-hoc government decisions. All new measures should be local and science-based as we must avoid imposing blanket country bans or quarantines. This information also needs to be communicated to travellers and the tourism industry so they can plan accordingly.
“The European Commission must recognise its role and help Member States coordinate. A harmonised approach is needed – one without ad-hoc government decisions”
The harmonised protocol should also be based on the same conditions. For example, the COVID test should be accepted if the traveller changes border in an EU Member States. It makes me feel pessimistic when I see EU Member States following their own strategies and accepting only their own test mechanisms. During the last few weeks, in many countries, the numbers of infected citizens has grown rapidly, especially in Croatia and in Spain. Yet the Hungarian government’s reaction was to close the country immediately on 1 September, without consulting the tourism industry. Austria, Slovenia and Germany introduced restrictions, but they have tried to avoid closing entirely.
The Commission must monitor these developments, and European coordination and a harmonised approach should be employed. In Brussels, one of the most important outcomes came at the end of August when the Commission presented proposals to the Council to grant financial support of more than €81bn to 15 Member States under the SURE instrument (with Portugal and Hungary soon to be added).
SURE is a crucial element of the EU’s comprehensive strategy to protect citizens and mitigate the severely negative socio-economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. The only question is how this financial aid can support the tourism and travel industry. Concerning upcoming EU legislation, we should support the extension of our decision concerning the airport slot regulation.
As many of you are aware, the European Parliament has followed this crisis closely and, during its recent 26 March plenary, MEPs voted for the first actions to facilitate and provide for a temporary derogation to the airport slots rule. Similarly, during Multiannual Financial Framework discussions on the future budget planning of the EU, we will fight for a European Union budget line for Sustainable Tourism (€300m for seven years) and a specific Crisis Management Mechanism for the recovery period for tourism.
Furthermore, in the European Commission’s new proposal for the InvestEU Programme, there must be a contribution towards strengthening the long-term competitiveness of the travel and tourism industry by supporting operations that promote sustainable, innovative and digital tourism. There are several positive elements and best practices from EU Member States and cooperative ideas for saving and restarting tourism, but more structural decisions and a clearer position from the European Commission must first be reached.
“If we harmonise the inconsistent patchwork of COVID-19 rules and travel advice in Europe, this could potentially lead to an increase in travellers by 27 percent, bringing back 10 million travel and tourism jobs across the continent”
We cannot afford to let tourism down. Proving the importance of tourism as a catalyst for European economic revival, the World Tourism Organization guidelines and the latest World Travel and Tourism Council research show how that every 2.7 percent increase in travel flow would generate or bring back one million jobs in the sector.
In fact, if we harmonise the inconsistent patchwork of COVID-19 rules and travel advice in Europe, this could potentially lead to an increase in travellers of around 27 percent, bringing back 10 million travel and tourism jobs across the continent.