EU countries argue over when to welcome tourists


Although counties are individually considering rules, there is a view that it makes more sense to have a pan-EU plan to avoid travel confusion. 

EU tourism ministers are discussing ways they can re-open borders safely. Topics to be discussed include whether passengers will have to have their temperature checked or even pass a coronavirus blood test before boarding planes. They are also going to consider whether tourists could be allowed to travel to a different country for a holiday if they have a certificate stating that they are COVID-19 free. 

The aim is to reach an agreement on guidelines so that countries can revive their tourism industries either in the summer or autumn. British tourists are likely to be the last to be allowed to travel to many places, with several governments claiming the UK was too slow to react to coronavirus. Having left the EU, the UK is not taking part in talks and will have no say on EU rules made about British tourists.

Spain and Austria will allow tourists from countries with low coronavirus numbers, such as Germany, but not the UK until at least October. Cyprus is also encouraging tourists to book holidays from Germany, Greece, and the Netherlands, but not the UK.

Greece has called on the European Commission to come up with a plan to resume travel as soon as possible and that there is an urgent need to reach a common understanding as to movement of people. For Greece, tourism accounts for around a fifth of its economy and more than a quarter of jobs.

Greece needs to become a safer destination for foreign visitors and a Common European Protocol that would guarantee safe health practices in tourist traffic is urgent. But there is also a need for a special plan on Greek tourism, to take advantage of Greece's international brand-name appeal and also boost its competitiveness.  

Greek tourism bodies have set July as a target date with an acceptance that some countries may allow outbound tourists, but others may ban or discourage them. 

The Greek tourism minister favours a system where all tourists come with a health passport, but the problem is that it wants the outgoing country to arrange and pay for a reliable test for the detection of coronavirus in the country of origin.

A European Union protocol on tourism could take months or years to decide and Greece cannot wait for long without economic disaster.

So Greek politicians are arguing over what new tourism restrictions it can safely impose independently without risking health but without turning away international visitors. Rules may apply to hotels, buses, beaches and anywhere else tourists go.

Germany argues that a European race to see who will allow tourist travel first will lead to unacceptable risks, as it is still too dangerous to rush to reopen European countries for tourists. It agrees that European states need to formulate common criteria for travel restrictions to be lifted as quickly as possible, but also as responsibly as necessary.

France is taking a tougher line and as lockdown eases it is seeking to discourage people visiting France or French people going overseas for many months ahead.

Portugal is far more cautious than countries expecting a 2020 return as it does not expect tourism numbers to revive until mid-2021.

In the Mediterranean, resorts and hotels are desperate to be open for the key season of June, July and August. Italy, Spain and Portugal are getting increased numbers of bookings, mostly from domestic tourists. German tourists are being targeted as hoped-for guests, but the appetite of German tourists or, indeed, the appetite of Germany’s government, may keep them at home.

There are going to be fundamental changes, driven by government policy and consumer behaviour post-COVID-19. Travel will come back, with domestic demand initially driving the market. 

While health tourism may recover as part of European tourism, the future for European medical tourism looks less certain, as no European country is yet considering reviving it. If tourism becomes built on health declarations and tests, then how might medical tourism survive?   



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