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The world of tourism in the midst of the Covid-19 storm, struggling for survival (Part 2)

Many actors, both accommodation providers and transporters, are affected by the health measures that have flourished around the world to fight the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic. Hospitality ON provides an overview of the situation, with the second part of this analysis focusing on transport at standstill, facing mobility bans.

Outside the world of accommodation, the various modes of transport are equally disrupted. The World Tourism Organization stated that "tourism and transport have been among the hardest hit of all sectors". With containment measures, the quarantining of travellers on arrival or the total shutdown of airlines, tourists are simply no longer able to travel.

Of course, the crisis is having a major impact on the airline industry, which is in the midst of negotiations with governments and intergovernmental bodies such as the IATA to find measures that can sustain the activity (see the analysis of the impact of Covid-19 on the airline industry), an activity that is nevertheless starting to pick up tentatively in Asia.

For example, the loss of revenue in France alone would be 65 million fewer passengers in 2020, according to an IATA study. This could lead to an estimated $12 billion in lost revenues, potentially jeopardizing 318,000 jobs and a $28.5 billion contribution to the French economy.

In Greece, passenger traffic at Athens International Airport (AIA) is estimated to have fallen by 61.3% in March, with a total of 639,580 passengers in March 2020 compared to 1.65 million in March 2019. On the Portuguese side, all the country's airports will close for a period of five days at Easter, between Thursday 9 and Monday 13 April, in "a final effort that is necessary to contain the expansion of this pandemic and to accelerate the phase in which we can gradually begin to lift the restrictions", as explained in an official statement by Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa. The country has declared a state of emergency, which has been extended until 17 April, to allow "exceptional" measures to be put in place to "prevent movement from abroad to Portugal or from Portugal abroad".

But air travel is not the only mode of transportation impacted. Rail, buses and individual transport operators such as taxis are just as much affected.

The SNCF is announcing a maximum drop in its daily traffic. There would be only 42 TGVs running per day at present, compared to the usual 700. Similarly, only 18% of the TER network would be covered, divided between trains and buses. The few travellers who go to the station must in fact have a certificate with a valid reason for travelling, such as health personnel who come to assist health facilities outside their home area. In addition, the French company has announced that it is giving the latter the opportunity to travel by TGV, offering "free travel by TGV for medical and paramedical staff - doctors, nurses and orderlies - who respond to calls for solidarity".

Meanwhile, other carriers, such as OUIGO or Blablabus, have even been forced to cease their activities completely since 17 March for Blablabus and 27 5am for OUIGO. The latter no longer appear in the travel choices offered on the OUI.sncf platform. Customers who have booked with one of these companies have received a credit note valid for one year.

The same goes for the German giant Flixbus, which has had to stop operating its fleet across Europe since 17 March. The transport company was forced to comply with the government directive across the Rhine, which also calls for "the restriction of social contacts in the public sector in Germany", so "Flixbus naturally follows the instructions of the federal government".

Regarding the situation in France, the German company stated :

"The French government has announced measures to restrict travel to the strict minimum and thus prohibit any travel that is not absolutely necessary. These directives apply to long-distance transport, including long-distance bus operations.

As for the impact of this drop in customers, and consequently in turnover, Flixbus stated that it had anticipated the losses and had "taken measures to counteract the possible economic consequences".

The Blablacar car-sharing platform maintains its activity on its side, even if "in the current context and the need for social distancing, car-pooling is not recommended", as stated on its dedicated website. People faced with the need to travel therefore still have the possibility to resort to this economical travel solution. On the other hand, only one person, in addition to the driver, is allowed per vehicle. This measure is intended to limit contact and transmission of the virus between potentially infected persons. Finally, anyone using the platform must also carry the famous certificate justifying his or her travel.

Another travel solution, although much more expensive, is that of a taxi. However, they have difficulty in finding customers due to the scarcity of these. Faced with the colossal losses recorded in the sector, the government has announced that it is coming to the aid of the profession by releasing an aid fund for small, very small and independent businesses in the area. Structures with fewer than 11 employees that have been forced to stop their activity will be able to benefit from a flat-rate aid of 1,500 euros per month while the company is temporarily closed. This solution is welcomed by the U2P (Union des entreprises de proximité). This aid applies to businesses with a minimum 50% fall in turnover, compared with 70% previously.

As another support measure for taxis that are still in operation, the government has announced that the reimbursement of travel expenses for medical personnel mobilised for the crisis would only apply in the case of a taxi ride, and is therefore not valid for a ride with a VTC. This rule comes after the trade unions of the profession threatened the government with the application of their right of withdrawal during the crisis if their exclusivity was not recognised for the medical transport market. Thus, the State declared in a press release that "for the transport of seated patients, it is the recourse to taxi drivers that will trigger the financial coverage by the health insurance".

In exchange for this exclusivity, and to contain the pandemic, professionals undertake to scrupulously disinfect their vehicles after each customer. In order to help taxi drivers to equip themselves properly, the government has expressed its willingness to set up a platform for purchasing hydroalcoholic gel and masks.

The government, which met again on Thursday, April 2 with the representatives of the sector, namely the professional federations of taxis (FNTI, FNAT, UNT and UNIT) representative at the national level, recalled the essential role of these "50,000 taxi professionals" who "play an essential role in the economic and social life of our country by making every day more than one million trips, in compliance with rules and tariffs set by the State".

Moreover, this essential role continues today since "in the context of the crisis we are experiencing, they demonstrate, as they have done in previous crises, their unfailing mobilization to meet the needs of the Nation".

It is therefore through solidarity that the activity, whether it is that of taxis or more broadly that of all means of transport, will manage to maintain itself and overcome this unprecedented crisis for the sector.

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