by Jose Ramon Bauza*
It took a lot of effort to convince the EU bubble of the relevance of tourism, but these last months of unprecedented crisis and the deep impact it is having on the sector, have finally done so. It seems like a long time but the Commission’s response is very welcome. The European Commission has finally understood the need to address the tourism challenges which some of us have been pointing out from the very beginning of this crisis. How could the EU ignore for so long an industry that represents more than 10% of the Union’s GDP?
Either way, let us look at the positive side: the Von der Leyen Commission has finally come up with a European approach with some necessary and urgent measures to be taken by the Member States. In practice, they may not be sufficient to defend this crucial economic activity. We must not forget that every single euro invested in tourism turns into €1.56 of benefit for associated industries.
These measures positively reflect the need to provide common criteria for passengers. EU citizens need certainty and safety on their travel and destinations. The best way possible to achieve this is to develop a coordinated European tourism strategy that builds on the tourism sectors of Member States. We also need a clear commitment to building a Brand Europe, reinforcing intra-EU travelling instead of keeping borders closed.
To recover from the crisis- and let us not forget, we are talking about millions of Spanish and European jobs – it is essential that tourists have confidence when they travel. Both their health and wallet, due to the risks of cancellations, must be well protected. We have no doubts that confidence and trust are built by coordinating effective measures and policies. Such coordination is what the Government of Spain has not done.
Improvisations and contradictions threaten to paralyse tourism in Spain -13% of our GDP- during this summer. I am talking about closing borders, imposing unilateral measures for airlines without taking into account the European criteria, and above all, imposing mandatory quarantines for EU citizens when other Member States are lifting confinement. These measures, which were not adopted when they were needed at the beginning of the pandemic, are now being implemented. This prevents any reasonable planning for businessmen, tour operators, and citizens. Spain runs counter to the European Union.
There is a lot at stake. It is imperative to put forward clear, unequivocal criteria. We need common guidelines regarding safety measures for the tourism industry. From distance among plane passengers to the mandatory use of face masks or the convenience of catering services, the tourism industry needs certainties.
European coordination is essential when lifting the containment measures and resuming professional and social activities. Not only for this summer but also for the next two years. Safety measures to restore free movement and recover tourism, while minimizing health risks for users and employees, will only make sense if they are based on common criteria for all Member States, and applied by all.
We need to provide the public with clear and accessible information regarding restrictive measures across Europe, as well as to develop technological solutions that guarantee disinfection and physical distance while guaranteeing the privacy of passengers and users.
Without common and identifiable European standards, it will be very difficult for us to recover: Spain receives 84 million tourists each year, but only 5 million Spaniards travel abroad. We cannot replace foreign tourists with our own nationals to save the season. We must stop the dismantling of international tourism and prevent the return of a nationalist border system. This crisis has already resulted in a liquidity crisis for companies and the destruction of up to six million jobs. It is our responsibility to fight with all the tools at our disposal and reverse the destruction of the tourism industry and to lay the foundations for our recovery.
*MEP of Renew Europe (Ciudadanos) and the group’s Coordinator for the Transport and Tourism Committee of the European Parliament
**first published in: www.euractiv.com