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EU officials finding ways to revive tourism industry
EU officials finding ways to revive tourism industry avatar

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Officials from European Union states are meeting today to decide on the prospects of reviving their continent's tourism industry.

The discussion follows an initial proposal made by the European Commission (EC), the executive body of the EU, that restrictions on travellers from countries outside the bloc should be progressively relaxed in time for the all-important summer tourism season.

But opinions remain deeply divided. Some countries whose economies rely on tourism want to see Chinese, Russians, British and Americans return in large numbers, while other nations advocate a more gradual opening of borders.

Ultimately, however, the EC can only make proposals – members are free to do what they see fit.

Since March last year, the EU has been closed for non-essential travel, except for visitors from six countries: Australia, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand.

The selection was justified by an EU-wide rule which exempted only countries where the Covid-19 infection rates over a rolling period of two weeks are less than 25 per 100,000 inhabitants, taking into account other "qualitative elements" such as the reliability of a country's statistical data.

The EC is now proposing to expand the list by opening the continent up to those nations where reported coronavirus infection rates over a rolling two-week period stand at less than 100 per 100,000 inhabitants.

That is still very strict, considering that the current average EU infection rate stands at 420 per 100,000, and only one EU member – Finland – meets the standard which the bloc is proposing to impose on others.

Still, the new proposed threshold will mean that citizens of Britain (where infection rates are now at around 40 per 100,000 over a two-week period and falling rapidly) would be allowed into the EU as tourists, as would the citizens of Russia, provided the country's official statistics are deemed reliable.

That should satisfy Spain, Portugal and Greece, which collectively take the bulk of the British tourist trade, and island states such as Cyprus and Malta, which rely on Russian tourists for a good share of their income.

The snag is that the new proposed threshold still does not include a critical market – the United States, where infection rates remain at around 250 per 100,000.

The revival of tourism with North America is considered critical, partly because many European airlines depend heavily on flights across the Atlantic.

A way around the US exclusion problem is to allow in people who have already been vaccinated, regardless of whether their country is on the "safe" list.

Largely to prepare the ground for this, the EC has suggested that tourists who can prove they have had both doses of a relevant vaccine at least two weeks prior to their trip can be allowed to enter.

To make matters easier, the EU has suggested that the approved vaccines be extended to those that "have completed the WHO registration process for emergency use" – which could include the two Chinese-manufactured vaccines.

Southern EU states such as Greece or Portugal, where tourism accounts for 10 to 20 per cent of the national economy, are predictably enthusiastic. Greece has announced that it is lifting travel restrictions on citizens of Israel.

But other countries, such as France and Germany, where politicians are still reeling from domestic criticism of their handling of the pandemic, remain wary.

To help create a consensus, the EU executive is proposing to review any border arrangement every two weeks, and to introduce an "emergency stop" which should allow the bloc to reseal its borders should there be a major outbreak.

Hoping to boost tourism within the community, the EU Parliament on April 29 approved the creation of a Covid-19 certificate that could serve as a standard pass for people who have been vaccinated or tested negative for the virus to travel across the 27-nation bloc.

Unfortunately, however, this has fallen foul of differing testing requirements in individual EU states, as well as different border regulations. And there is no agreement on the paperwork required.

Europe's tourism industry is destined to remain hobbled.

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