The European Commission has issued guidelines aimed at offering people “the chance to get some well-needed rest, relaxation and fresh air”.
The organisation also supported a voucher system as a method of refunding travellers, noting that the number of requests for refunds currently outweighed bookings, putting travel companies under stress.
The EC has also made available up to €8bn in financing for 100,000 small businesses hit by the crisis.
The EC said: “As soon as the health situation allows, people should be able to catch up with friends and family, in their own EU country or across borders, with all the safety and precautionary measures needed in place.”
The package also aimed to help the EU tourism sector recover from the pandemic, by supporting businesses and ensuring that Europe continues to be the number one destination for visitors.
European Commission VP, Margrethe Vestager, said: “This is not going to be a normal summer, not for any of us [but] we don’t have to face a summer stuck at home – or a completely lost summer for the European tourist industry.
“Today’s guidance can be the chance of a better season for the many Europeans whose livelihood depends on tourism and of course for those who would like to travel this summer.”
Travel, transport, accommodation, food, recreation or culture, contribute to almost 10% of EU GDP and provide a key source of employment and income in numerous European regions. 267 million Europeans (62% of the population) make at least one private leisure trip per year and 78% of Europeans spend their holidays in their home country or another EU country.
Hotels were advised to put in place systems allowing guests slots to be booked at swimming pools, gyms or restaurants. Buffets should ensure guests not in the same family can remain at least 1.5 metres apart. Hotels were also be expected to keep address records to allow contact tracing in the event of an outbreak of coronavirus.
The EC said that, as Member States managed to reduce the circulation of the virus, blanket restrictions to free movement should be replaced by more targeted measures. If a generalised lifting of restrictions was not justified by the health situation, the Commission proposed a “phased and coordinated approach” that started by lifting restrictions between areas or Member States with sufficiently similar epidemiological situations. The approach must also be flexible, including the possibility to reintroduce certain measures if the epidemiological situation requires.
It added that, in areas which would expect a large influx of visitors, they should 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”.
The Commission also came out in support of vouchers for travel refunds, although confirmed that refunds should be made available. The EC said that vouchers should have a minimum validity period of 12 months and if the voucher had not been used, the company should reimburse the amount within 14 days.
Commissioner for Justice and Consumers, Didier Reynders, said: “European consumers can be reassured: The Commission will not downgrade their EU rights for reimbursement for cancelled travel. We recommend, however, making vouchers more attractive for those who chose this option. In the meantime, freedom of movement is the right European citizens cherish most. It is important to restore this right as soon as the circumstances allow it.”
Insight: Whatever your political leanings, I think we can all come out on the same side as the Commission when it comes to having a summer this year, with aspirations really no higher than lying face down somewhere.
The guidance suggested to hotels was nothing more elaborate than strategies already being put in place by the big brands, with an additional emphasis on keeping records. After the furore on Twitter over a possible end to the breakfast buffet, there will be relief amongst many that they are not off the table, but firmly on it.
One interesting aspect from the champions of fee movement is the idea of the travel bubble, which allows countries to effectively trade citizens with each other, as long as they are convinced that each party is controlling the virus.
So far Switzerland, Austria, Germany and France may lift internal border controls. Denmark is also looking at a travel bubble with Greece. These are being seen all over the world and will be the pattern for how the globe reopens.
Who will be left out? It doesn’t take too much guessing. Use your common sense.