The shell-shocked tourism sector is expected to enter another dark season due to Covid-19 variants and a slow vaccination rollout within the bloc.

Europe’s battered travel and hospitality sector is expected to face another difficult twelve months as vaccination campaigns within the EU fail to pick up pace.

Southern European countries like Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, where tourism generates considerable revenue for their respective economies, have been some of the places most badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The mass vaccination campaigns in these countries began between late December and early January, but have been slower than their equivalents around the world.

Although the tourism sector for Europe is expected to do better than it did in 2020, the recovery will be low compared to the pre-pandemic era.

Last year, just three cruise ships arrived on the Greek island of Santorini compared with nearly 600 in 2019.

European Commission figures show a 70 percent decrease in non-resident holiday nights in Italy, Spain and Greece. It also warned of another quiet year for the sector.

“Tourism flows on the whole are not expected to fully recover to their pre-crisis levels in 2021,” the commission said, Bloomberg reported.

Ongoing restrictions 

The Italian government on Sunday delayed opening Italy’s ski season largely due to the threat the new variants pose.

Forbidding amateur skiing at least until March 5 effectively kills the hopes of anyone - including ski lift operators and resort owners - having dreamt of salvaging part of a lucrative season. 

Skiing is a big source of winter tourism in Italy. The timing of this devastating news, on the eve of the expected opening, will have frustrated so many. It does not help that several of the early outbreaks of Covid-19 were linked to ski resorts.

France and Germany have adopted similar measures in the ski sector as reports established that the coronavirus variants had seen a spread into these two countries.

Since January 24, the EU has restricted travel into the bloc to combat varying strains that have begun emerging from the UK, South Africa and Brazil.

People with extenuating circumstances are allowed to travel to EU nations,  but a Covid-19 negative test result needs to be given as evidence before departure.

Despite each member country maintaining its own travel standards for those within the bloc countries or third states, regulations are fairly strict across the continent.

For example, Finland has restricted travel even from other EU countries, where people can travel there without border control. It permits only essential travel for the healthcare and emergency services sector.

Slow rollout in Europe

The EU countries’ vaccination campaigns are facing a public backlash as its vaccination drive lags behind that of the US, UK, Israel and a few other countries. 

By Sunday, the EU had only vaccinated 4.79 people out of every 100 - leaving it far behind Israel, the UAE and Chile, who are all buying vaccines from other countries, according to Our World in Data, a project of the University of Oxford.

Just 1.6 percent of European citizens had received a second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, while 3.1 percent had received just one dose.

However, plans are afoot to ensure 70 percent of the EU population is vaccinated by the summer.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen admitted a failure in the entire rollout due to being “too optimistic.”

“We are still not where we want to be. We were late to authorise. We were too optimistic when it came to massive production and perhaps we were too confident that, what we ordered, would actually be delivered on time," she told EU lawmakers. 

Health passport

EU countries have initiated to debate over whether those vaccinated could be allowed greater freedom to travel in the summer than those not immunised.

Several southern European governments have expressed their willingness to create such a “health passport” in order to restore the pandemic-battered tourism sector.

In January, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis floated the idea of an EU-wide vaccination certificate to help restore cross-border travel that has been crippled by the damaging lockdowns.

However, introducing any vaccine certificates for travel too early would create enormous frustration, the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, said last month.

Michel also said that travel vaccine certificates are “sensitive in many European countries because some of them would have the impression that a certificate makes vaccination mandatory.”

Source: TRT World