Travel and tourism have almost disappeared worldwide as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but as quarantines and lockdowns begin to ease, consumers and workers are hoping to salvage what they can for the summer holiday season.
Nowhere has the blow to tourism been felt more than in Europe, which is the world’s top tourist destination with 600 million foreign visitors a year and where the sector employs 23 million people.
“We are hoping to be able to open the hotel, the restaurant and the beach in June,” said Stephane Vuillaume, a manager at Hotel Belles Rives in Antibes on the Cote d’Azure, which has been closed since March 8. He said the government was due to give businesses an update in a month’s time to confirm the reopening date.
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“For now, the borders of Europe are closed so we are focusing on French and European customers, but the business outlook is catastrophic. Everyone is making a loss,” he added.
COVID-19 halted tourism overnight, as long-distance travel was one of the biggest drivers of the global spread of the disease from its source in Wuhan, China.
The European industry is set to lose between EUR275 billion and EUR400 billion because of the pandemic, the EU’s internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton told the European Parliament. Europe’s airline passenger revenue will drop by US$76 billion year-on-year, according to the UN’s World Tourism Organization.
Finding smart solutions
While the EU is yet to come up with guidelines on how it will restart travel among its member states, there is some optimism that summer getaways will be possible, the European Commission’s President, Ursula Von der Leyen, says.
“I think we are going to find smart solutions to have a summer vacation,” Von der Leyen told Portuguese news outlet Expresso. “Maybe a little different, with other hygiene measures, with a little more social distance, but it is impressive to see that we have found solutions. So I am optimistic about summer holidays.
“It is difficult to predict what the next months will be like, but what I see is that we are beginning to learn to live with the virus,” Von der Leyen adds.
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But not every country in Europe is enthusiastic about allowing travel in the coming months. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned against a “European race to see who will allow tourist travel first,” Bloomberg reports, and France’s Secretary of State to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, called for patience.
“We all agreed that we should have a unanimous approach when it comes to opening the borders, as we are all one family,” Croatia’s Tourism Minister Gari Cappelli told reporters in Zagreb after a video conference with his peers in the bloc, Bloomberg reports. “People still want to travel outside their borders, and we should allow that as much as we possibly can.”
While European travel guidelines are yet to be finalized – decisions about whether travellers will have to possess a health certificate or have their temperatures taken before boarding planes are yet to be made – everyone wants to allow all countries to revive their tourism industries as soon as possible.
“We have to get some revenue this summer,” Goncalo Rebelo de Almeida, executive board member of Portugal’s Vila Gale hotel group, tells Reuters. “I hope… that will at least allow us to pay fixed costs. And then we will bet on it returning to normal in 2021.”
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