Travel in Europe during coronavirus: Plan to create 'tourism corridors' between countries

Brussels: The European Union is striving to save the continent's summer holidays and a tourism sector left devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.

The EU's tourism sector is worth 10 per cent of the bloc's gross domestic product and provides more than 27 million direct and indirect jobs. It faces the loss of at least half of its turnover in 2020, with countries in southern Europe particularly badly hit, the European Commission said.

The commission is pinning its hopes on encouraging tourism between the member states. More than three-quarters of trips made by EU citizens are to other EU countries but travel restrictions continue to apply across the bloc.

Vera Jourova, a vice-president in the EU executive, called on member states to lift travel bans and border controls thrown up in response to the pandemic "as soon as possible" after scientists deemed it safe.

Speaking in Brussels after a meeting of the "college of commissioners", she refused to be drawn on ideas such as "COVID-19 passports", an EU-wide document which was discussed by tourism ministers on Monday.

Jourova also refused to say if the cabinet-style meeting of commissioners had discussed whether air passengers would be forced to wear face masks or be separated to respect social distancing.

"We still have ahead of us very detailed work on different aspects relating to tourism. It was said many times that we will have to take a holistic approach," she said.

The commission would publish guidance on the issue on May 13 she said, before adding that any lifting of travel restrictions should not discriminate on grounds of nationality.

"It's quite clear that we do not want to have discrimination," Jourova said when asked about British fears of a possible ban on its citizens travelling to the EU.

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European ministers have called for "tourism corridors" between EU countries, which would be facilitated by the agreement of joint procedures and protocols, especially in tracking infections after an outbreak.

There are also moves afoot between EU countries to make bilateral agreements, based on similar rules and protocols, to allow for travel and tourism.

Twelve EU governments urged the commission to suspend rules forcing cash-drained airlines to offer full refunds for cancelled flights instead of vouchers for future travel.

The transport ministers of Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal have all asked the commission to make a temporary amendment to the existing rules.

Jourova gave tacit backing to the idea, suggesting that vouchers could square the circle between respecting consumer protection laws and helping the stricken airlines.

Airlines across Europe, including Lufthansa and Air France KLM, have sought state rescues as lockdowns forced them to ground their fleets for more than a month, with no end in sight.

Across the continent, countries are braced for a massive economic hit from the loss of tourism revenue. Many are making plans to attract domestic visitors a priority but economies such as Greece and Croatia are dependent on foreign visitors.

Croatian authorities have suggested they could allow tourists who can prove they don't have coronavirus and who come from countries with fewer infections than Croatia. Greece has called for Europe's borders to reopen as soon as possible. Within Italy, which like other destinations is desperate to lure tourists back, Sardinia is mulling over the idea of a health passport for visitors.

Tourists coming to the island would be required to have a document showing they have tested negative for COVID-19. The laboratory test would have to be recent - conducted within a week of the tourist's arrival.

The fact that Sardinia is an island would make the scheme easier to police - holidaymakers would have to present the document as they boarded a plane or ferry. On arrival in a port or airport, they would then be subjected to a temperature scan.

Sardinia is hoping to relaunch its tourism sector in June, while Italy's southern region of Puglia is considering a similar scheme and the island of Ischia, off Naples, has suggested installing multiple floating platforms off beaches, which would allow couples or families to enjoy the sun and sea but stay at a distance from other tourists.

The nearly two-metre-wide platforms would be equipped with sun loungers and an umbrella for shade. Tourism accounts for around 15 per cent of Italy's GDP.

Bookings for this northern summer are down by 57 per cent and the tourism sector is not likely to fully recover from the damage done by the pandemic until 2023, according to a study by the National Tourism Agency.

Giorgio Palmucci, the head of Italy's tourism agency, said the government should look at signing bilateral accords with neighbouring countries, based on common health protocols, that would allow tourists to return. He suggested accords with Austria, Germany and Switzerland, which account for 35 per cent of foreigners who visit Italy.

Germany has extended a worldwide travel warning until June 14 while Austria hoped to reopen hotels at the end of May.

The Telegraph, London

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