Guidance has been issued by Brussels on how to “reboot” tourism in Europe this year after months of Covid-19 lockdown.

The recommendations are designed to help countries gradually lift travel restrictions and allow tourism businesses to re-open, while respecting necessary health precautions.

The aim is to offer people “the chance to get some well-needed rest, relaxation and fresh air”.

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People in the EU make 385 million tourism trips and spend €190 billion in an average summer season between June and August.

But the impact of the pandemic means a potential 60%-80% reduction in international arrivals, according to the World Tourism Organisation.

The European Commission warned that tourism businesses are facing an “acute liquidity crisis” with losses in revenue of 50% for hotels and restaurants, 85% for tour operators and travel agencies, 85% for long distance rail and 85% for cruises and airlines. Bookings have slumped by between 60% and 90%, with SMEs hit the hardest.

The Commission has already made available up to €8 billion in financing for 100,000 small businesses hit by the crisis, with the European Investment Fund in addition to €100 billion in “financial relief” to help save jobs.

The Commission added: “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 is also designed 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.

It includes a recommendation which aims to make travel vouchers an “attractive alternative” to cash refunds for consumers – a position which airlines have criticised as lacking clarity.

Commissioner for the internal market, Thierry Breton, said: “Millions of SMEs and family-run businesses working in accommodation, restaurants, passenger transport and travel agencies risk bankruptcies and job losses – they urgently need to go back to work.

“We are helping European tourism get back on track while staying healthy and safe.

“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 eco-system in the future.”

The tourism and transport package also includes:

  • An overall strategy towards recovery in 2020 and beyond;
  • A common approach to restoring free movement and lifting restrictions at EU internal borders in a gradual and co-ordinated way;
  • A framework to support the gradual re-establishment of transport whilst ensuring the safety of passengers and personnel;
  • Criteria for restoring tourism activities safely and gradually and for developing health protocols for hospitality establishments such as hotels.

The Commission is proposing a “phased and co-ordinated approach” that starts by lifting restrictions between areas or countries with sufficiently similar epidemiological situations to replace blanket restrictions to free movement.

A common framework is set out for safely and gradually restoring tourism activities and developing health protocols for hotels and other forms of accommodation, “to protect the health of both guests and employees”.

These include epidemiological evidence; sufficient health system capacity being in place for local people and tourists; robust surveillance and monitoring and testing capacity and contact tracing.

“These guidelines will allow people to safely stay at hotels, camping sites, bed & breakfasts or other holiday accommodation establishments, eat and drink at restaurants, bars and cafés and go to beaches and other leisure outdoor areas,” according to the Commission.

General principles for the safe and gradual restoration of passenger transport by air, rail, road and waterways are outlined including the need to limit contact between travellers and transport workers and  reducing the density of passengers.

The guidelines also include indications on the use of personal protective equipment such as face masks and on adequate protocols in case passengers present coronavirus symptoms.

A digital transformation of tourism services will be encouraged to “offer more choice, better allocation of resources and new ways of managing travel and tourist flows”.

Transport commissioner Adina Valean added: “We aim to create safe conditions in every mode of transport, to the extent possible, both for people travelling and transport workers.

“As we re-establish connectivity, these guidelines will provide authorities and stakeholders a standard framework.

“Our priority is to restore mobility as soon as possible, but only with clear provisions for safety and health.”