Algarve tourism officials celebrate “historic results” in 2019
Photo: Helio_Ramos

Brussels sets out to ‘harmonise’ Europe’s return to tourism “before the summer”

European commissioner Thierry Breton is focused on working with the 27 (member states) for a “safe reopening” of the bloc, “including of frontiers, that will free the tourism sector from its state of total paralysis with zero income”.

With responsibility for the ‘internal market’, Breton tells Expresso: “It’s extremely important that we start giving answers to businesses before the summer”.

Yes, the first concern has to be that there are no signs of the pandemic surging once countries embark on their lockdown-emergence strategies – but the pressure is on to give them guidance, and possibly even hope.

Here, tourism bosses are divided. There are those who say this summer could see many businesses breaking even with the help of Portuguese holidaymakers and those that arrive here by road – and others, like Elidérico Vieigas, president of the Algarve’s hoteliers association AHETA, who are infinitely more pessimistic and can’t see chances of even break-even revenue until next Easter.

To this end, Brussels is focused on coming up with a plan which it hopes to publish on May 13.

Says Expresso, it will be more a series of recommendations – leaving final decisions to each member state – but the bottom line is that there should be a ‘harmonisation’ of rules so businesses and holidaymakers ‘know where they are’.

Explained Breton, “there is already talk of tourists from the north of Europe going to the south. I hope this will be possible. But in order that it may be, we will need to understand the plans of all member states”. And understand them, “very well”, he stressed.

“Without the communication of clear rules by different governments, circulation (of people) will be more difficult, particularly as in some cases a holiday trip could involve crossing “three, four or even five countries”.

Mr Breton’s concerns came as the Resident itself has started receiving requests for information from families in Holland and Belgium planning road trips to the Algarve later this summer but unsure of whether they will be possible. In other words, there is a definite need for clarity… and fast.

Some countries – including Croatia and Greece – have shown themselves in favour of the creation of a form of Covid-19 ‘passport’ attesting that the holder does not carry the virus, adds Expresso. Breton says details like this “will depend on dialogue between countries and their respective health authorities”.

Questioned as to the possibility of some governments making it difficult for citizens to leave their home country “as a strategy for saving internal tourism, Breton said he hopes member states will “allow tourists to travel to their favourite holiday destinations”, though, right now, “it’s too early to say where and how”.

Aviation is key

Key to the whole strategy is aviation: which companies will be running routes, how often, from where and to a lesser extent for what prices? 

Ryanair, for instance, has just announced it won’t be running holiday flights in any seriousness until July and even then it expects passenger numbers to be well down, basically because people won’t feel confident enough to travel.

Tourism represents between 10% – 11% of Europe’s GDP, adds Expresso, while in Portugal it accounts for 16%.

Europe-wide, there are 27 million people whose jobs depend on tourism in some form or other – and of the three million or so companies within the sector, 90% are small or medium sized businesses that are already in parlous financial health.

In other words, Brussels’ strategy – plus details of financial support likely for the sector – is quite desperately needed. Herein lies the ‘issues’ over the next seven year budget that have already seen, and continue to see, a degree of ‘north-south tension’ (click here).

Says Breton, lots of small and medium sized businesses will need subsidies and not loans – whether they’re involved in tourism or any other sector – and although nothing in this sphere has been decided yet, he told Expresso: “while I am commissioner for the Internal Market I will be pushing (for subsidies) and I am not alone in this”.

He stressed that whatever northern countries liked to say, their markets are intertwined with those of the south, and thus it is in everyone’s interests to ensure that every country survives this crisis.

Meantime, tourism businesses in general will have to ‘reinvent themselves’, he stressed. They will have to become “more sustainable, green, digital and resilient”.

In September/ October there is to be a EU conference on this very theme, he added.

[email protected]