“By staying home today, we can travel tomorrow”: This message from the UN’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is what we are all following during these difficult days.
Their hashtag #TravelTomorrow encapsulates this message of solidarity and hope, through which UNWTO is calling for shared responsibility among travellers and the tourism sector around the world in dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic.
This crisis has affected the tourism sector throughout its entire value chain. The immediate cancellation of travel and booking arrangements has caused serious problems for Europe’s tourism industry.
As the EU’s third biggest economic sector, tourism is estimated to be losing more than €1bn in revenue per month. It also employs around 13 million people, many of whom hold jobs that were already at high risk.
Over the past few weeks, we have received letters from tourism industry leaders, reporting the latest data on their economic situation, and it is clear that this crisis is affecting everyone in the travel and tourism industry.
“As the EU’s third biggest economic sector, tourism is estimated to be losing more than €1bn in revenue per month. It also employs around 13 million people, many of whom hold jobs that were already at high risk”
Transport modes, cruise line companies, hoteliers and even catering sectors have had to close their facilities. We have the necessary EU legislation for consumer protection and to support the entire transport sector, but in times of crisis, this legislation must be adapted to the current situation.
Rapid, clear, direct and transparent decisions are needed at this time. The EU institutions and Member States have reacted quickly to the crisis, with immediate actions taken to tackle the health issues and to mitigate as much of the economic damage as possible.
This was particularly important for the tourism sector where most companies are SMEs and are more vulnerable when cashflow is disrupted.
The European Commission has been working on mobilising all available resources under the EU budget. The Multiannual Financial Framework for 2014-2020 has provided us with the structure needed for sharing these financial sources with Member States to support them in handling the outbreak.
Furthermore, the Commission has also proposed earmarking €37bn to address the crisis under its Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative aimed at, among other things, providing liquidity for businesses and support to people who have lost their jobs.
As well as these measures, decisions were taken on advancing payments, ensuring that Member States can take advantage of the maximum flexibility that EU financial rules afford and redirect EU funds.
“We need a European Crisis Management Mechanism, one which helps all actors in the tourism industry”
Earlier this month, another initiative was tabled - the temporary Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (SURE) programme - as part of the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative Plus.
It allows for financial assistance of up to €100bn in the form of loans from the EU to affected Member States.
As the EU Treaties give limited EU competences for tourism, the roles of Member States and regions are crucial. Several national governments announced their aid programmes immediately.
The European Parliament has followed this crisis closely too, and, during its 26 March plenary, MEPs voted for the first actions to facilitate and provide for a temporary derogation to the airport slots rule, supporting the first €37bn package.
Meanwhile in the Transport and Tourism Committee, the Tourism Task Force has urged the Commission to create a European crisis-management mechanism for the tourism sector.
The Thomas Cook bankruptcy and the Coronavirus epidemic have shown us why we need well-structured guidelines and accessible funds for the sector.
At international level, actors such as the European Travel Commission, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the OECD and the UNWTO reacted to the crisis as a global network and began drawing up mitigation and recovery plans.
It is now really difficult to estimate the global effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the OECD predicts a 45-70 percent decline in the international tourism economy in 2020, while the WTTC forecasts more than six million job losses.
Similarly, the UNWTO foresees a massive 20-30 percent decline in international tourism arrivals in 2020 when compared to last year.
So, what can we do and how? First, we should mobilise all the financial mechanisms available for these companies. We also need to manage the health crisis and restart the economy so that we can save workplaces and create new jobs.
The UNWTO says that urgent support and specific mitigation packages are needed now to sustain jobs and ensure capacity in the market in the immediate aftermath of the emergency.
Finally, we need a European Crisis Management Mechanism, one which is capable of helping all actors in the tourism industry.