Positive signals for recovery of Europe’s tourism industry

The European tourism industry, which has been stagnant for more than a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is showing signs of recovery as the immunisation campaign has been widely rolled out, and many countries in the region have begun to ease restriction measures on tourists.

The EU is pushing ahead with work on a single COVID-19 vaccination passport. (Illustrative photo)
The EU is pushing ahead with work on a single COVID-19 vaccination passport. (Illustrative photo)

European tourism has undergone a long period of “hibernation” and immersion in crisis. According to the European Statistical Office (Eurostat), travel activity in the European Union (EU) shrank by 52% in 2020 as a result of the lockdown measures to curb the pandemic. In some countries where tourism is a key economic sector, such as Greece, Cyprus and Malta, the situation has been even worse with declines of up to 70%.

At the moment, with the wave of COVID-19 beginning to recede, the inoculation campaign being expanded, travel restrictions gradually lifted, and the prospect of establishing a “vaccine passport” system across the region, Europe’s tourism sector is reopening. Accordingly, the first tourism fair in Europe since the pandemic was recently held via virtual form in Madrid, Spain, with the participation of about 50,000 travel experts from all over the world. This international event came after a series of EU member states announced that they will relax travel restrictions to gradually bring tourism and other areas of social life back to the “old normal”.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said that the easing of restrictions in the country will be divided into five stages depending on the development of the pandemic. In the first phase, set to kick-start on June 1, restaurants may open late night, and some sports activities and in-person classes will be restored. The second phase, scheduled for a month later, will allow for an increase in the number of participants in private and public events, as well as the number of spectators directly watching sports and arts events. In the fifth phase, all restrictions will be completely removed.

Meanwhile, the Romanian government said that the country will loosen its COVID-19 prevention measures from June 1, allowing the reopening of pubs and entertainment clubs, as well as increasing the number of participants in sports and cultural events involving 500-1,000 people. Previously, other EU members such as France and Austria also relaxed travel restrictions, creating opportunities for the revival of the tourism industry. In May, the French people “burst with joy” when they could again get served at cafes, pubs and outdoor restaurants, visit museums, and go to cinemas and theatres after six months of being “tied up” at home. The Austrian government also allowed restaurants and pubs to reopen after six months of closure to contain the pandemic.

With the aforementioned positive signals, European countries are hoping that the tourism industry will soon help them recover their struggling economies. The spokesperson of the Greek government hailed the recovery signals as being very positive, stating that the Greek government expects the tourism industry to revive this year with the number of visitors possibly equivalent to 50% of the 2019 figure. In addition, tourism experts said that the European Commission’s recent suggestion to allow entry of fully vaccinated tourists from a third country is expected to create a “boost” for the recovery of tourism activity.

However, in the context of the current serious and complicated COVID-19 wave in many countries, European tourism is still facing countless difficulties and precaution is needed. The EU’s decision to reopen tourism activities also poses potential risks as a new COVID-19 wave could possibly break out at any time.