How will European tourism survive the virus?

Paris – Tourism is a key component in the European economy, accounting for 10 percent of all activity but it now faces its greatest challenge — how will it survive the coronavirus pandemic?

International tourist arrivals could plunge by 60 to 80 percent in 2020 owing to the coronavirus, the World Tourism Organization warned on May 7, meaning the local business is going to be essential.

Here are three immediate questions for the industry.

 

– Whither summer holidays? –

 

France is the world’s leading destination for holiday travel but President Emmanuel Macron warned earlier this week it was “too soon to say if we can take vacations” this year.

EU internal market commissioner Thierry Breton believes “some zones will be open to tourists, but not others,” depending on the health situation.

Many people appear to be planning local holidays as international travel looks set to be off the agenda for months to come.

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“To start with, it will be a question of ultra-proximity,” French junior minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said.

In Britain, “holiday bookings for this summer have reduced drastically as people wait to see how the situation develops both in the UK and overseas,” said a spokesperson for the ABTA travel association.

“There is clearly considerable pent up demand for holidays and when lockdown conditions are lifted, people will have a renewed appetite for travel to see friends and family, and for taking a well-deserved holiday,” the sector specialist added.

 

– What measures are in the offing? –

 

Popular destinations have begun to announce recovery plans “but the right health conditions have to be in place first, and there will need to be changes in some of the structures of travel and tourism to allow for social distancing,” the ABTA representative added.

Tourists must above all feel their health is not at risk if the industry is to save a summer season looking to be be one of the worst on record.

Ali Abdelhafidh, at the Castel Plage in Nice, southern France, said half in jest that he would “quit the business” if his clients had to wear masks and gloves.

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The town of Gandia, southeastern Spain, plans to hire beach watchers and possibly ban kids at certain hours to ensure people maintain a minimum distance from each other.

Restaurant patios are likely to be enlarged where possible and menus sent to cell phones instead of being passed from hand to hand.

Clients are also likely to have their temperatures checked and be required to have masks and gloves to minimise the risk of infection.

But while meant to reassure, such measures could prove counter-productive.

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Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini asked the pointed question — “What kind of tourism is it when for example only a few people can eat together in a restaurant or pizzaria?”

In general, European tourism specialists want clear and coherent guidelines so that everybody understands what is required.

Breton said the European Union was working on harmonised rules for welcoming tourists that could be unveiled “in the coming days.”

 

– The economic impact? –

 

Johan Vincent, researching how economic crises have impacted tourism, notes that “tourism has always bounced back because those concerned have adapted to the crises they have faced.

The price tag is likely to be huge however, given that a country like Spain, the number two destination worldwide, forecasts a 64 percent drop in tourist arrivals this year.

Exceltur, which groups leaders from 28 Spanish airlines, hotels, tourist agencies and related companies, expects the sector to lose up to 60 percent of its annual sales.

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Breton wants “a Marshall Plan for tourism,” similar to the one that helped Europe recover from World War II.

He estimates it would need one to two trillion euros ($1.08-2.16 trillion).

A potential obstacle to joint action is that tourism is crucial for some, but not all EU members, in particular countries such as France, Greece, Italy and Spain but also some of the smaller states such as Croatia.

By Corentin Dautreppe with AFP bureaus