Roam close to home: Europe's tourists play safe in pandemicPTI | Berlin | Updated: 29-05-2020 15:32 IST | Created: 29-05-2020 15:25 IST
Many a journey to far-flung corners of Europe starts in a dusty industrial yard in east Berlin, where Felix Rascher carefully tends to his small fleet of Volkswagen camper vans, a favorite among free-spirited travelers the world over. But this spring, the pandemic threw a wrench in the works of the travel industry, as countries closed their borders and residents hunkered down to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Hotels, airlines, travel agents, tour operators, restaurants, local guides, and car rentals saw income evaporate as lockdowns came into force. "Our business normally begins in mid-March," Rascher, 37, said. "The Easter rentals collapsed completely, of course." According to Thierry Breton, the European Union's internal market commissioner, some 27 million jobs across the EU are directly or indirectly linked to tourism, accounting for 12% of employment.
Some 3 million businesses, most of them small companies like Rascher's, benefit from Europe's normally wide-open borders, helping make the continent the world's top tourism destination with half of all global arrivals. Government aid packages have kept many businesses afloat, but mass unemployment in the tourism sector is likely once those funds run dry.
The dearth of tourists is particularly painful for some of the countries whose citizens and health care systems have suffered the most during the pandemic. Spain, which gets 12 percent of its GDP from tourism, recorded no hotel occupancies in April. Normally crowded travel hot spots such as Rome, Paris, Venice, and Barcelona have at times appeared deserted in recent months.
Industry representatives are now pressing European governments to reopen borders in time for the summer vacation season. Germany, with its 83 million inhabitants and generous annual holiday rules, will be crucial to the recovery of Europe's tourism industry - especially while oversees visitors from China and the United States remain locked out by travel bans.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has indicated that if conditions are right, he would soon like to remove 31 European countries from a travel warning issued in March. But Maas has also made clear that he doesn't want to repeat the logistical nightmare of repatriating a quarter of a million Germans that were stranded abroad during the first wave of the outbreak in March.
As talks among European officials drag on, some countries are already vying for sun-starved travelers: Portugal says travelers arriving by plane won't be quarantined, though there will be "minimal health controls" at airports.