Bonn/Rome/London: Nadine Scheiner’s efforts to travel from her home in Germany to Spain’s sun and sea have twice been foiled by the coronavirus.
First, it was her annual trip to Ibiza, and then she canceled an attempt to visit the Costa Brava in Catalonia because of the recent uptick in infections. The fallback for her family of four is the Netherlands’ windswept North Sea coast.
“I’m certainly a bit sad, we always love to go to the south and in Holland you can never be certain if the weather is going to be ok,” said the 32-year-old from Wiesbaden. “The sea and the sunshine is just good for the soul.”
Scheiner’s experience illustrates the latest problem Europe’s tourism and travel industries must confront as they struggle to recover from the unprecedented blow inflicted by the coronavirus.
While Spain is at the forefront of renewed concerns about infections, the issue is radiating across Europe’s southern rim. Instead of fueling a revival, some travelers from the wealthier north appear more inclined to stay closer to home. That’s a potential blow to countries like Spain, Italy and Greece, where tourism accounts for a big chunk of their economies.
As the August high season approaches and operators hope for a last-minute jump in bookings, the increase in cases in some virus hotspots, together with tighter hygiene, social distancing and quarantine rules for travelers, are boosting uncertainty. In a further blow, the European Union on Wednesday backtracked further on a plan to let in more foreign travelers.
In a non-binding recommendation to EU national governments, the bloc advised keeping external borders shut to people from most countries including the U.S. for at least two more weeks.
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Summer is when airlines and hotels make the bulk of their cash as millions of Europeans take their annual vacation, and the season can mean the difference between survival and bankruptcy over the lean winter months.
The situation is also straining ties between European allies. Officials in London and Madrid clashed this week after the U.K. advised Britons against all non-essential trips to Spain and ordered arrivals from Spanish airports to quarantine for 14 days. U.K. Transport minister Charlotte Vere appeared to backtrack Tuesday when she said the government is considering ways to loosen quarantine rules.
Germany on Tuesday warned tourists against trips to Catalonia, Navarra and Aragon, citing concerns over higher virus numbers and local lockdowns.
“All of this points to a longer recovery period and more pain for the industry and the global economy,” Alexandre de Juniac, director general of the International Air Transport Association, said Tuesday.
There is “little chance for an upswing in international air travel unless governments move quickly and decisively to find alternatives to border closures, confidence-destroying, stop-start re-openings and demand-killing quarantine,” he added.
In most of Europe, the daily increase in new infections is far below the peak around the end of March. However, Spain registered more than 900 new infections on three occasions over the past week, a trend not seen since early May. Fresh outbreaks occurred in Catalonia and neighboring Aragon.
Even before the latest uptick, tourism demand was seen plummeting by more than half this year and not expected to return to pre-crisis levels until 2023, according to the European Travel Commission. As many as 30 million jobs could be lost in 2020, the ETC, which represents 33 national tourism organizations, predicted this month in its latest quarterly report.
ETC Executive Director Eduardo Santander said governments must adopt a “harmonized approach” to travel restrictions “if they want to save the travel sector in Europe.”
“Unfortunately we see just the opposite,” Santander said Tuesday in emailed comments. “A very fragmented picture, constantly changing, and therefore travel confidence is at a record low.”
Robert Griggs, policy and public affairs director at Airlines UK, a lobby group for the industry, said a more targeted, regional approach is needed “where quarantine could apply only to affected regions.” Airport testing would allow people who are Covid-19 negative to continue traveling without the need to self-isolate on arrival, he added.
“These measures are vital if we’re going to support a sector through this latest blow and as we head toward what is going to be a hugely challenging winter,” Griggs said.
To be sure, it’s not all bad news in Europe’s traditional holiday destinations. Johanna Strand, a spokeswoman for Greece’s South Aegean Islands, said the number of passengers arriving at airports including Mykonos, Santorini and Rhodes is increasing.
Greek authorities were widely praised for their handling of the virus and the nation has recorded a mere 4,227 cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That compares with more than 270,000 in Spain and nearly 250,000 in Italy.
Paolo Corchia, who owns the Hotel President in the Italian resort of Forte dei Marmi in Tuscany, is cautiously optimistic about business for next month. Bookings are around 70%-80% of available rooms, better than in July when the hotel was fully booked only at the weekends.
“I thought we would do much worse,” the 70-year-old said in an interview. “Of course, we are just talking about reaching the break-even point here, not making profits.”
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