COVID-19's devastating impact on Europe’s tourism sector

It’s time the European Commission took action and began developing a common European Tourism strategy, says José Ramón Bauzá Díaz.

By José Ramón Bauzá Díaz

José Ramón Bauzá Díaz (ES, RE) is a member of the European Parliament’s tourism task force steering group

18 Sep 2020

We all already know that the COVID-19 crisis has had a devastating impact on tourism. We all know that the figures for a crucial EU economic sector have been overwhelming. The figures are getting worse every week and the situation has unfortunately not changed.

Despite all our efforts to achieve a coordinated European solution for the travel and tourism sector, which resulted in a recommendation from the von der Leyen Commission in May, the reality has been very different this summer.

Traffic restrictions and quarantines - imposed by some Member States unilaterally since the beginning of the pandemic and without common epidemiological criteria - have had a direct impact on the sector. Confidence and trust for Europeans to travel this summer have been largely left up in the air.

In this context, the sector’s recovery is far from what is needed and 2020 is already lost. Many European holidaymakers have preferred to stay at home this year and many hotels, restaurants, tourist establishments, cruises, coaches, and airlines have remained closed. In regions like the Balearic Islands, which depend on visitors, the situation has been devastating, creating an economic decline that is affecting all the region’s citizens.

“Tourism combats nationalism and promotes European integration. Devaluing tourism and setting it aside is a big mistake”

Being aware of this difficult situation, I made a short documentary at the end of July to highlight the real consequences of the crisis. Its purpose was to give voice to the main actors of a highly affected sector. Since a picture is worth more than a thousand words, I encourage all readers to watch it on my YouTube account (José Ramón Bauzá).

It illustrates the day-to-day life of this extraordinary summer in one of the most emblematic islands of the Mediterranean Sea. By being Europe’s epicentre of the tourism crisis, I have no doubts that the Balearic Islands, a region internationally known for its beauty and tourist attraction, is the greatest case study. In this spirit, since the beginning of this legislature and long before the COVID crisis took us by surprise, I have worked hard to achieve the recognition of tourism by the European institutions.

I have strongly defended the need to adopt an EU tourism policy and have a common European framework and strategy to move towards quality European tourism. Like many others in the European Parliament, I am fully aware of the potential and enormous economic impact that tourism generates, employing millions of people.

However, for the moment, the European Commission’s response to countless calls from Parliament has been little to nothing. To my great regret, everything seems to indicate that the Commission and Council have no intention of putting together a shared strategy that will ensure Europe remains the number one destination for travellers in the world. They must be aware that tourism is not only a crucial economic activity but also reinforces the European project and the feeling of Union citizenship.

Tourism can be the beginning of an Erasmus placement for an EU student or the impetus for new work opportunities in other parts of Europe beyond home borders. Tourism combats nationalism and promotes European integration. Devaluing tourism and setting it aside is a big mistake.

Member States need to be aware of its potential and we need a more committed European Commission that does not hide behind recommendations, but takes action on delivering a truly EU tourism agenda. I find it incomprehensible that there is still not a single euro earmarked for tourism in the EU budget, another of the great demands Parliament has been calling for, for years.

Once again, the Commission is ignoring MEPS and has not presented a budget line for tourism in its proposal for the next Multiannual Financial Framework.

“We need a more committed European Commission that does not hide behind recommendations, but takes action on delivering a truly EU tourism agenda”

Luckily, all is not lost. One thing we do know for sure is that Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton has promised to organise an EU Tourism Summit before the end of the year. This will be a magnificent opportunity to discuss the sector’s situation, its needs and find the formula to build an EU Brand for tourism. Without common European standards, it will be very difficult for the tourism sector to recover.

We cannot save the season by replacing foreign tourists with our own nationals. We must stop the dismantling of international tourism and prevent the return of a nationalist border system. This crisis has already resulted in a liquidity crisis for companies and the destruction of a million jobs. It is our responsibility to fight with all the tools at our disposal and to lay the foundations for our recovery.


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