Destinations reloaded

Travel trade welcomes careful comeback plans

Greek destinations such as Chalkidiki want to welcome international visitors from July 1 onwards.
Greek destinations such as Chalkidiki want to welcome international visitors from July 1 onwards.

Tourism managers in Germany are welcoming plans by Mediterranean and other European destinations to start carefully resuming business as coronavirus lockdown restrictions are eased and borders are re-opened.

The European Commission presented on Wednesday (May 13) a concept for EU states to permit cross-border travel again, for hotels to re-open if they meet strict hygiene and social distancing requirements, and for holidays to be permitted in areas where there is sufficient medical care capacity for guests if necessary. However, individual European countries will be responsible for deciding whether, when and how to implement these measures.

Germany eyes end to global travel warning

The German interior ministry announced the border with Luxembourg would re-open on Saturday (May 16) and Denmark could follow soon afterwards but the borders with France, Switzerland and Austria would remain closed until June 15.

Foreign minister Heiko Maas said the global travel warning, which currently applies until June 15, could be gradually lifted, starting with European countries. “It will definitely be possible to lift the travel warning for Europe earlier than for other destinations – as long as the current positive trend in many countries remains constant,” he said. Maas plans to hold talks with EU colleagues in the next few days about easing travel restrictions.

First Germany, then Austria?

Many tourism experts predict Germans will be mostly interested in domestic holidays this summer, heading in particular for coastal regions that are perceived as safe destinations.

However, Austria could be one of the first international destinations to benefit from an influx of German holidaymakers. The country plans to re-open its border with Germany on June 15, a fortnight after hotels and other accommodation will be allowed to resume business. Germany is a vital source market for Austria, generating well over a third of all overnight stays in the country in 2019.

Med destinations work on safe tourism concepts

Meanwhile, many destinations in the Mediterranean – from Spain and Portugal in the west to Greece, Turkey and Egypt in the east – are working intensively on how to safely re-open for business and welcome international tourists once again. Most plans focus on how to ensure sufficient social distancing and improved hygiene standards at airports, on transportation and in hotels and restaurants.

Greece, for example, has named precise dates for its tourism relaunch. It will allow hotels and restaurants to re-open on June 1 and wants to welcome international tourists from July 1 onwards. The government wants the European Commission to decide on harmonised rules for all EU citizens but is prepared to strike bilateral deals with individual countries if necessary. 

Praise for comprehensive planning in Turkey

Turkey seems to have the most comprehensive approach with a 244-point plan to revive tourism as quickly as possible. Measures would include social distancing at airports and on coach transfers, no more buffet self-service, as well as intensive hotel room disinfection when guests leave and then a 12-hour break until the next guests can use the room. The often large-scale hotels would be limited to 50% occupancy at most.

“The plan covers the entire trip,” praised Songül Göktas-Rosati, Germany chief of Turkey specialist Bentour Reisen. “Turkey has an advantage of course as large hotels can be operated profitably with low occupancy more easily than small ones,” she pointed out. Hicabi Ayhan, Head of Destination Turkey at FTI Group, added: “In the big hotels the working processes are often extremely well structured and thus easy to manage.” Peter Glade, commercial director of leisure airline Sun Express, predicted: “As soon as the first travellers return home and report how well the hygiene and distancing measures worked, then that will definitely motive other people to plan their holiday.”

Occupancy limits in Egypt

In Egypt, with many large resort complexes, hotels will re-open for domestic tourists on May 15, limited to maximum 25% occupancy until June 1 and then to 50% afterwards. It is unclear when international tourists might be able to visit again but experts believe a quick comeback is possible. Andreas Rüttgers, tourism director of Schauinsland-Reisen, pointed out: “The country has the advantage that it offers many tourist centres that are self-enclosed, such as Makadi Bay, Hurghada and Marsa Alam.”

Still more pain in Spain?

The picture is more complicated in Spain, which is one of the European countries hit hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic and is only slowly easing its lockdown measures. Hotels are being allowed to re-open for domestic travellers in some cities but beach holidays still look a long way off, meaning the tourism sector could remain depressed for months to come.

Isabel Oliver Sagreras, state secretary for tourism, told fvw: “The return of foreign tourists will first be possible once the mobility restrictions have been lifted.” This would take place in agreement with the EU and neighbouring countries, she said.

However, TUI CEO Fritz Joussen is more optimistic. Explaining that the group had drawn up a ‘health check’ for all destinations and would only offer holidays “where it is safe”, he commented: “Majorca is definitely in first place. The hotels there have done their tests and are ready to start immediately and welcome guests.” Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Bulgaria, Austria and Denmark are also well prepared, in his view.

Meanwhile, the Canary Islands are also gearing up to restart their tourism industries, with the small islands of El Hierro, La Gomera and La Graciosa first to ease their restrictions very gradually. Larger islands are looking further ahead. Gran Canaria plans to pump €5 million into the sector, including €3 million for marketing activities, €1 million to support events, and €1 million in flight subsidies. Tenerife is working on a new tourism development plan with specific measures for action, including better infrastructure and sustainable tourism.

Portugal could focus on German visitors

In Portugal, tourism expert Oliver Zahn, head of incoming agency Portimar, expects domestic tourism to revive first of all this summer and then international tourism in the autumn. He believes that small hotels will have a competitive advantage and that German visitors will be particularly welcome, given the country’s success in tackling the pandemic. “I expect many destinations will soon compete for German guests. The British source market is less interesting at present,” he commented.