Is this year’s beach vacation just a dream? Not necessarily, according to the European Commission.
Brussels wants people to travel and the tourism business to re-open in a coordinated manner.
The Commission has proposed a set of recommendations aiming at lifting travel restrictions and border controls throughout the EU.
‘There will be a European Summer’
Since the pandemic, most EU countries have limited people’s movement, with ‘non-essential travel’ being restricted, as well as imposing quarantine measures. Brussels wants to start thinking about lifting such restrictions, but has suggested detailed guidelines to keep travellers and workers safe.
While the EU is keen to save what it can of the summer season, for citizens and tour operators alike, vice-president Margrete Vestager admitted this will ‘not be a normal summer’.
On travel, the Commission proposes an approach in phases which “starts by lifting restrictions between areas or Member States with sufficiently similar epidemiological situations.” So citizens of countries with similar levels of infections should be able to travel more freely.
There should also be enough capacity in hospitals, as well as testing, surveillance and contact tracing capacities in place for tourism to start again.
All crossings should have ‘containment measures’ in place where social distancing cannot be respected.
The EU recommends buying tickets and doing check-ins online.
Fewer passengers should be allowed to board vehicles, and passengers not from the same household should be sat apart, and face masks should be required.
Beyond this, sanitising gel should be freely available during journeys, food/drink should not be served aboard.
The proposals say that in areas which would expect a big wave of tourists (such as island nations), that the areas have sufficient health system capacity ‘in place for local people and tourists, so that in the event of a sudden increase in cases, primary care, hospital and intensive care services are not overwhelmed.’
At the destination
The guidelines also state that the health of guests and workers must be paramount for tourism to return. All tourism staff should receive training on prevention and to recognise COVID-19 symptoms.
They also recommend operating with a reduced number of staff.
Maintaining social distancing in hotels and restaurants could mean allocating slots for meal times or pool and gym visits.
Ultimately, the choice remains up to each EU country on which of these recommendations they apply.
Vouchers vs Refunds
The EU has faced a tough battle between passengers and airlines over the latter issuing vouchers instead of a full refund when a flight has been cancelled.
With airlines suffering massive losses due to lockdown restrictions, they have been asking for a certain degree of flexibility when it comes to refunding customers, and pushing for vouchers to become an acceptable alternative.
The EU executive insists that refunds will remain the safety net for passengers.
However, it has called for vouchers to be made a ‘more attractive option’ for customers.
They are calling on companies to ensure vouchers have a minimum validity period of 12 months. If the voucher has not been used, the company should reimburse the amount within 14 days.
If a voucher is valid for longer than 12 months, the customer should have the right to a refund if they choose, after 12 months.
To avoid customers paying more for the same, in case of cost increases, the EU recommends:
“carriers should ensure that vouchers allow passengers to travel on the same route under the same service conditions as detailed in the original booking;
– organisers should ensure that vouchers allow travellers to book a package travel contract with the same type of services or of equivalent quality as the terminated package.”
These measures could be crucial in helping the beleaguered tourist sector. According to Eurostat data, during an average summer season (spanning June-August) people living in the EU make 385 million tourism trips spend 190 billion euros.
In certain parts of Europe, in islands and coastal communities, tourism accounts for the majority of local business.