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[Update] Covid 19 : Europe will soon slowly wake up

European tourism ministers are meeting on Monday 27 April to discuss the future of tourism in the world's leading tourist destination. Announcements of cancellations of major events are pouring in in France and Europe. Scientists and politicians still lack visibility in the face of the virus. What decisions have been taken since this article was first published on 21 April?

Sanitary adaptations are mandatory to the reopening of many businesses of the tourism sector. In the meantime, other activities will reopen gradually respecting social distances.

Unsurprisingly, the OECD is alerting world decision-makers to the fragility of SMEs in all sectors, which are the most vulnerable to a prolonged crisis. The tourism sector is overwhelmingly made up of VSEs and SMEs. Recovery is therefore vital for a sector where margins are lower than in other industries. In this context, how can we recover as quickly as possible?

Sébastien Bazin, CEO of the Accor group, spoke on April 23 to remind us that although the situation is unprecedented, all governments are on its side. He added that for the past 10 days, the group has not closed any new properties and is preparing to reopen some in Asia, but also in Denmark, Germany, Austria, Norway and Slovenia.

In France, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will make a statement on Tuesday 28 April at 3 pm to share the conditions and stages of deconfinement. These elements will not, however, concern tourism, a separate sector for which many decisions and arbitrations remain to be made. Discussions will continue, including a meeting of the President of the Republic and his ministers with representatives of the profession. The Scientific Council has communicated a series of recommendations including that of limiting travel to foreign countries as much as possible and the possibility of returning a region to lockdown in the event of a resumption of the epidemic on the territory. The maintenance of barrier gestures, including physical distancing, will of course remain a must.

In Spain, the government has announced the publication of a recovery plan for tourism within 3 weeks through a health protocol. The Instituto para la Calidad Turística Española (ICTE) is in charge of developing this protocol. It will be supported by an information guide. The ICTE will be supported by the Asociación Española de Normalización. The aim of this protocol is to enable the sector to resume activity in the best possible conditions.

Germany has announced that it will maintain the closure of restaurants and bars for an indefinite period. At the same time, the German Minister for Tourism has warned of the risk of reopening tourist destinations too soon. He says "A European race to see who will first authorize tourist trips would entail unacceptable risks."

The Greek Minister of Tourism, Harry Theoharis, told the BBC that he will do everything possible to welcome tourists from certain countries as early as July. He stressed the major importance of this activity for the national economy. However, no details were given on a precise timetable and the actions being taken. He added that if the tourism economy did not pick up again soon, there might be nothing left to restart.

In Austria bars and restaurants will reopen on 15 May, hotel openings will follow two weeks later.

Information from the 21 April issue:

The World Health Organization recommends a progressive deconfinement with an evaluation of each opening phase after 2 full weeks. A means of assessing possible impacts on the pandemic within the destinations concerned. The European Commission is working on proposals for an action plan to phase deconfinement and limit as much as possible the risk of W-shaped scenarios (resumption of virus spread). 

Zurab Pololikashvili UNWTO Secretary-General underlined about the tourism sector : “COVID-19 has impacted travel and tourism like no other event before in history. Governments have put public health first and introduced full or partial restrictions on travel. With tourism suspended, the benefits the sector brings are under threat: millions of jobs could be lost, and progress made in the fields of equality and sustainable economic growth could be rolled back. UNWTO therefore calls on governments to continuously review travel restrictions and ease or lift them as soon as it is safe to do so.”

Ursula Van Der Leyen, President of the European Commission, stated on this subject: “Saving lives and protecting Europeans from the coronavirus is our number one priority. At the same time, it is time to look ahead and to focus on protecting livelihoods.”

In the absence of a vaccine, the world's population remains vulnerable to the virus and only the maintenance of barrier gestures with limited contact can contain the spread of the virus as much as possible. The impact on tourist activity is therefore maximum with, at this stage, a ban on gatherings in the majority of European destinations, at least until mid-July in France, as well as a moratorium on the reopening of restaurants, cafés and bars. This is an untenable situation in the long term for many restaurateurs who are calling for their businesses to reopen.

The challenge will therefore be to find a balance between public health and economic recovery, all the more so for a sector that will emerge from the crisis exhausted. 

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