After months of uncertainty with lockdown measures demanding sacrifices from citizens and businesses across Europe, the EC has presented the Tourism and Transport Package. A package of guidelines and recommendations to help Member States to phase out travel restrictions and allow tourism businesses to start up again in accordance with the relevant health precautions agreed on European level. The package will support the tourism and transport sector, seeking to ensure a coordinated and safe approach in returning to normality.
It includes five different measures: a comprehensive strategy for recovery in 2020 and beyond; a common, gradual and coordinated approach to restoring free movement and removing restrictions at internal borders; a framework supporting the re-establishment of transport, ensuring the safety of passengers and staff; a recommendation on travel vouchers and refunds; and criteria for the safe and gradual resumption of tourism activities.
In re-establishing freedom of movement, it will involve a gradual and coordinated process among Member States, needing to consider a number of criteria. First and foremost, there will be the epidemiological criteria, and effectiveness in ensuring containment measures should the virus reappear. The lifting of restrictions will initially involve regions with a similar epidemiological situation and risk profiles and then extend to all internal EU borders. At this stage, however, the restrictions to date on all non-essential travel remain in place.
Another key point in the package concerns the re-establishing of transport services. In order to ensure the safety and health of staff and passengers, the distance measures will need to be extended, including restrictions on access to transport means, in addition to the use of personal protective equipment such as masks. The number of passengers per vehicle will therefore be limited and the sale of food, beverages and other products on board will be prohibited in order to minimise contact.
Another measure concerns refunds and vouchers for routes cancelled due to the pandemic. The solution proposed by the Commission is to encourage users to opt for vouchers of the value of the initial ticket, so that, at the same time, a future service to the traveller can be guaranteed, without incurring additional costs for the companies. In addition, conditions will be much more flexible than usual and it will be possible to change the ticket holder, destinations and dates at no extra cost.
Finally, the package provides a set of criteria to encourage the gradual and safe recovery of tourist activities, through the identification of health protocols for hotels and other types of facilities, with a view to protecting the health of users and employees as much as possible. These criteria include epidemiological evidence, capacity building of local health systems for residents and tourists, monitoring and surveillance systems and the ability to perform on-site testing. To promote the highest level of safety, the package combines more practical measures with the possibility of using the much discussed tracing apps, in this case with cross-border interoperability. The requirements for these applications remain those discussed at national level, i.e., first and foremost, to be voluntary, transparent and of a temporary nature and use of anonymous data.
In support of these measures, the Commission has made up to €8 billion available from the European Investment Fund to support the start-up of small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as measures to increase flexibility regarding state aid.
“Today we propose a common European approach to managing what will remain a difficult 2020 summer season, while preparing for a more sustainable and digital tourism ecosystem in the future”, said Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton. Without doubt, the crisis has provided an opportunity to facilitate the transition to a more sustainable tourism model and encourage a digital transformation that will revolutionise the sector in the future.