Written by Maria Niestadt,
To raise awareness of the importance of tourism, we mark World Tourism Day each year on 27 September. This year, however, World Tourism Day comes at a very particular time, with the tourism sector facing an unprecedented crisis due to the measures introduced to contain the spread of the coronavirus. In August 2020, the United Nations (UN) forecast a 58‑78 % reduction in international tourist arrivals in 2020. The crisis is affecting all countries, including several EU countries that are heavily dependent on tourism. Although travel has slowly restarted, travel demand and tourism confidence are at record lows and unemployment is rising across the sector. The same UN policy brief estimates that 100 to 120 million direct tourism jobs worldwide are at risk, with women, young people and informal workers the most vulnerable. National travel restrictions in response to an uptick in Covid‑19 case numbers suggest that the sector will continue to face uncertainty for the remainder of the year, and into the next.
Although the EU has few powers in the tourism area, it has played an important coordinating role, by issuing guidelines and recommendations to help EU countries gradually lift travel restrictions and allow the safe resumption of travel. It has also taken steps to coordinate national travel rules and advice, which are often inconsistent. Travellers are confused by the constantly changing rules and advice, while at the same time struggling to apply their rights, in particular when their journeys are cancelled due to the pandemic.
The EU has also worked to provide tourism businesses with much-needed liquidity and support to retain their workforce, in addition to helping EU countries support their tourism businesses by relaxing EU fiscal and State aid rules. Furthermore, tourism is one of the sectors that can benefit from the €750 billion European recovery instrument (Next Generation EU) and various programmes in the EU’s long-term budget – although the absence of a dedicated budget line for tourism does not make it easy to quantify the amounts that will go to support the sector.
Parliament is following developments in the tourist sector with a keen interest. In a June 2020 resolution, it made suggestions for additional tourism support measures, including a dedicated budget line in the EU budget. Parliament has also called for a move to more sustainable forms of tourism that respect both the environment and our cultural heritage.