Bonnes vacances! – Can it wait until 2030?

Editor’s Blog: Produced in collaboration with the EU Buzz team 

Travel industries and tourism sectors across the globe have been decimated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Incomes and jobs have been lost, summer holidays cancelled and, with the uncertainty remaining about travel restrictions, there seems to be no end in sight for this vital division of the economy.

Europe insists it is open again for tourism – Borderless Schengen zones at least will allow European citizens to reach European destinations for their vacations. The European Commission says that the “safe reboot of tourism in Europe is possible because of the concerted effort of the EU, national authorities, and industry. And last but not least – our collective and individual effort.”

This comes as welcomed news to those who have seen a 70% decrease in revenues in EU tourism in 2020, which has left almost 11 million jobs at risk.

In March this year, the European Commission set itself the ambitious target of delivering enough vaccines by mid-July to protect more than 70% of the adult population and with the hope that it would decrease viral transmission and stimulate travel. Despite the vaccine challenges and delivery constraints, the Commission is confident that Europe is on target to achieve its 70% goal.

Nevertheless, tourism will only be able to open up, and more importantly stay open, if it can ensure  global immunity – this is highly unpredictable at the moment as new Coronavirus variants emerge across the world – meaning that for the immediate future, “staycations”, stay at home or local tourism, are the only available options, and that too only for European tourists who want to visit European destinations.  

The Commission has been very active in trying to agree a Digital COVID Certificate, interoperability of mobile contract tracing apps, and facilitating safe free movement of citizens in an attempt to help people travel safely across Europe. Providing up-to-date information and safety protocols through the Re-Open EU and the Tourism COVID-19 Safety Seal have also been implemented. These tools should at least allow many European citizens to have a summer holiday this year.  

The EU Digital COVID Certificate, announced as fully operational by July 1, means that every European Union citizen will be able to prove that they have been vaccinated, and/or tested negative, and/or are immune from a previous infection. Seventeen Member States are already using the Certificate, but barriers to effective implementation of the Certificate remain. One of the biggest frustrations is the long queues at busy airports due to the checking process.

Many EU countries will also want to utilise these Certificates to open up cultural events such as concerts, festivals or museums, thus a requirement to make the Certificates more user friendly must be considered. Furthermore, as there is not a set of common rules across EU Member States, discrimination is beginning to surface in some countries where citizens are assessed on grounds of age, the type of tests used and the validity periods of those tests or immunity. Europe must develop further guidelines for a common set of rules to prevent any forms of prejudice.  

Citizens are rightly asking “where is the co-ordinated approach presented by the EU?”

Council recommendations are not binding on Member States and this is leading to confusion both for citizens and tourists, especially for visitors from third countries. Such mixed messages are also used by the media to cause even greater confusion and the unwitting spread of misinformation. It is therefore essential that the Commission and Member States present clearer communications and greater solidarity to achieve a common goal.  

To its credit, the European Union has, and is,  focussed on resilience and recovery. The tourism and travel sectors are two of many that have the Commission’s attention – But, the attention is not indivisible from the Commission’s overall objectives and priorities, meaning that new growth in the sector must now come with a green agenda and with adherence to digitalisation and sustainability criteria. The European Union has no intention of returning to the old ways of doing businesses. 

The Commission suggests that by 2030 it plans to use data, anonymised and aggregated, to optimise a wide range of tourist services, increase energy efficiency of buildings used for tourism, and allow visitors to tailor make their tourism experience. This includes promoting “circular hotels”, where green waste is recovered for composting and used in horticulture, and where produce is then in turn purchased by hotels. Additionally, the development and use of apps could allow beachgoers to know how crowded the beaches are in real time. The Commission believes such innovations will make Europe a top quality destination known globally for its sustainable offer, and attracting responsible and environmentally conscious travellers. As yet the Commission has not shared how it intends to improve Europe’s poor customer service reputation which is one of the greatest criticism from foreign travellers. 

In support of a renewed and revitalised travel and tourism sector, the European Commission has launched an open consultation targeting “Scenarios towards co-creation of transition pathway for tourism for a more resilient, innovative and sustainable ecosystem”. The consultation is open until 15 September.

Commissioner Thierry Breton has asked stakeholders to reflect and contribute on the scenarios for 2030 and list key enablers for the transition of the tourism ecosystem. Whilst 2030 will not address the immediate challenges faced by the sector, and Commissioner Breton will not be in post then either (highly unlikely) to be held accountable, it is hoped that the Commission will take on board the recommendations submitted by stakeholders in the sector and already implement some suggestions to begin rebuilding the foundations of European tourism. 

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