We have all lost a great deal over the past two years, beginning with the Thomas Cook bankruptcy and then, within a few months, the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and caused total closure in the tourism and travel industry.
The entire tourism ecosystem has been affected and the European hospitality sector has been particularly hard hit, bringing difficulty and uncertainty to an otherwise flourishing sector. Millions of jobs and businesses are at risk, and there has been a 19.3 percent fall in employment in the accommodation and food sector - of around 1.86 million fewer jobs.
EU Member States reacted with immediate border closures, social distancing measures and different quarantine rules, causing long periods of closure where nobody knew what was going to happen. In these circumstances, it is impossible to run a hotel or a restaurant.
“The majority of national and EU decision makers have only just realised the vulnerability of the entire tourism and hospitality sector”
The majority of national and EU decision makers have only just realised the vulnerability of the entire tourism and hospitality sector. Without travellers or visitors, there are no hotel reservations or restaurant bookings. Tourism is based on trust; this trust has disappeared.
What were the first reactions? Industry was not prepared for this enormous crisis; neither were national governments nor the European Union’s institutions. From the outset, the European Parliament underlined the three main areas for action.
First, immediate liquidity to the sector - to ensure its survival – coupled with a crisis management mechanism and a long-term sustainable European strategy, as well as more and better coordination at European level.
Dedicated funds and programmes have arrived, such as the SURE emergency unemployment support, the NextGenerationEU programme and, more recently, during the last Brussels plenary the European Parliament supported the Estonian Government’s application to obtain direct financial assistance from the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund.
We now have best practices at EU level that we can adapt later on managing this kind of crisis. But what happens to those SMEs where Member States have not classed tourism among as a political priority? Who will help them? Will the financial institutions and banks understand that, in the middle of a crisis, different tools and rates are needed?
We have some doubts, so we must force more European actions, involvement and the setting up a European Tourism Union. Like health, tourism policy is primarily a national competence. After the first months of the Coronavirus crisis, the European Commission finally understood my arguments for creating a European Health Union; we are seeing this begin to work.
However, we need greater political will from the EU institutions. The Commission started well, setting up a new tourism directorate and ensuring that tourism was included as one of the EU’s 14 crucial industrial ecosystems. This is a historical moment, recognising the economic, social and political importance of tourism.
Now greater governance is needed. The European Parliament did its job, voting for a resolution on the future of sustainable tourism, while political groups such as the S&D preparing their own strategic visions for tourism.
With the digital green certificate on its way, we have the standard of a European Tourism COVID-19 Safety Seal. What we need now is an awareness and marketing campaign to win back trust in tourism; people should feel that travelling and reserving a table in a restaurant is safe.