The COVID-19 pandemic has a devastating impact on the tourism sector, directly affecting 22 million jobs and 2.3 million businesses. In Europe, the tourism sector accounts for around 5% of the EU’s total workforce and almost 4% of the EU’s GDP. As we are witnessing a second wave of infections and subsequent travel restrictions in the EU, the outlook for the sector is not promising. What measures have been taken so far, and how will the recovery of the EU tourism industry be ensured?
Support measures at EU and Member States level
As an initial response to support the sector, the European Commission adopted a package of initiatives in May to allow for a coordinated framework to resume transport and tourism, including guidelines on safe and healthy travel, guidance for lifting internal borders and recommendations on vouchers issued by package travel organizations. However, as the EU has limited competence in the field of tourism, its guidelines are non-binding, thereby hampering the effectiveness of its actions.
At a national level, most Member States introduced economic assistance packages that also covers the tourism sector, including extended deadlines for payments of social charges and wage subsidies, loans and guarantees for workers. The EU competition framework was amended to facilitate this kind of direct support that would normally not be in line with the state aid rules.
Additionally, in order to further facilitate coordination of travelling across the EU, Member States recently adopted a recommendation establishing common criteria and a common framework on travel measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, individual Member States remain responsible for implementing the content of the recommendation, leading to a patchwork of measures and consequently insecurity and unclarity about travel.
European Parliament’s push for coordination of the recovery of the EU tourism industry
The European Parliament (EP) has been very vocal in the role it thinks the EU should play in the recovery of the EU tourism industry. On 29 June, the EP adopted a resolution calling for additional measures to save the EU’s tourism and travel sector. Around that time, different political groups (such as Renew Europe, S&D) in the EP published individual position papers on tourism, all advocating for more European coordination.
The European Parliament’s Tourism Task Force (TTF), a dedicated group in the Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN) has been a vocal supporter of developing a strategy for sustainable tourism for some years, advocating the EU to take concrete steps towards establishing a broad, EU-wide vision. Currently, the TRAN Committee is in the process of drafting a report on the development of this strategy.
In the short term, before the finalization of such a strategy for the future of the tourism sector, the TFF argues that a separate budget line of €300 million is needed to support the sector and stresses the importance of considering the tourism industry in drawing up national recovery plans. The TRAN Committee also calls on the Member States to financially support the industry and apply common criteria for travel.
Agenda for a sustainable and smart tourism industry
On 12 October, the European Commission organized the European Tourism Convention in order to facilitate discussions among stakeholders on the recovery as well as the future of a sustainable tourism industry. According to Commissioner Thierry Breton, the Convention marks a first step towards a EU policy framework for the tourism sector.
Based on the conclusions of the Tourism Convention and the recent developments in the European Parliament, Dr2 Consultants identifies four important trends that will dominate the agenda for the recovery of the tourism sector.
- The strategy for the future of the tourism sector should stimulate a dual transition towards a more sustainable and smarter sector, by accelerating investments. This could lead to the development of safe and seamless tourism experiences powered by the digitalization (data sharing, multimodal travel) and greener holidays (eco-tourism);
- Sufficient investments in the sector are needed to ensure the recovery of the EU tourism industry. The European Parliament’s TTF proposal to create a separate budget line for tourism worth €300 million is not yet taken up within the draft MFF proposal. However, the European Commission has announced that the new Recovery and Resilience Facility, worth €560 billion, could also be used for the recovery of the sector;
- Liquidity problems in the sector should be addressed, in particular to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). SMEs should be empowered and be able to operate more innovatively with digital tools and financial instruments, either through the proposed budget line or state aid;
- Collaboration is key between the tourism industry, European politicians, and EU Member States. Policymakers on an EU level should cooperate and coordinate measures in the travel industry and engage with stakeholders to understand what is needed to build a new agenda or strategy for tourism of the future.
As travel restrictions and containment measures are still in place within the EU, a coordinated approach among the Member States is a prerequisite for the recovery. The main challenge for the tourism sector and policy-makers in the short to medium term remains to swiftly enhance cooperation to ensure the recovery of the EU tourism industry in the long term, ready for the current and any future crises.
At the same time, it is to be seen what the Commission will do in building an agenda for the future smart and sustainable tourism industry, as its workplan for 2021 does not reflect any concrete actions for the future industry so far. However, by organizing a convention on tourism, it has put the issue more plainly on the agenda and set the table for constructive dialogue between the sector and policymakers. It is expected that the final report of the European Parliament on establishing an EU strategy for sustainable tourism will further shape the debate on the sector’s future, inviting the European Commission to respond by developing a concrete vision for the future.
The anticipated recovery measures for the post-COVID-19 era will have a major impact on the EU budget and the EU policy agenda. In this challenging context, it is crucial to remain up-to-date with the latest developments and to be flexible in order to adjust and act quickly. Dr2 Consultants supports your organization in getting a better grip on the contingency and recovery measures that are announced at EU level. Visit our COVID-19 services webpage to learn more.