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TOURISM

How will tourism in France, Spain and Italy survive the virus?

Tourism is a key component in the European economy, accounting for 10 percent of all activity but it now faces its greatest challenge - how to survive the coronavirus pandemic?

How will tourism in France, Spain and Italy survive the virus?
A closed beach in Calviá on the Spanish island of Mallorca. Photos: AFP

International tourist arrivals could plunge by 60 to 80 percent in 2020 owing to the coronavirus, the World Tourism Organization warned Thursday, meaning the local business is going to be essential.

Here are three immediate questions for the industry.

France is the world's leading destination for holiday travel but President Emmanuel Macron warned earlier this week it was “too soon to say if we can take vacations” this year.

EU internal market commissioner Thierry Breton believes “some zones will be open to tourists, but not others,” depending on the health situation.

Many people appear to be planning local holidays as international travel looks set to be off the agenda for months to come.

“To start with, it will be a question of ultra-proximity,” French junior minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said.

In Britain, “holiday bookings for this summer have reduced drastically as people wait to see how the situation develops both in the UK and overseas,” said a spokesperson for the ABTA travel association.

“There is clearly considerable pent up demand for holidays and when lockdown conditions are lifted, people will have a renewed appetite for travel to see friends and family, and for taking a well-deserved holiday,” the sector specialist added.

Popular destinations have begun to announce recovery plans “but the right health conditions have to be in place first, and there will need to be changes in some of the structures of travel and tourism to allow for social distancing,” the ABTA representative added.

Tourists must above all feel their health is not at risk if the industry is to save a summer season looking to be be one of the worst on record.

Ali Abdelhafidh, at Nice's Castel Plage in southern France (pictured below in peak tourist season), said half in jest that he would “quit the business” if his clients had to wear masks and gloves.

The town of Gandia, southeastern Spain, plans to hire beach watchers and possibly ban kids at certain hours to ensure people maintain a minimum distance from each other.

Restaurant patios are likely to be enlarged where possible and menus sent to cell phones instead of being passed from hand to hand.

Clients are also likely to have their temperatures checked and be required to have masks and gloves to minimise the risk of infection.

But while meant to reassure, such measures could prove counter-productive.

Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini asked the pointed question — “What kind of tourism is it when for example only a few people can eat together in a restaurant or pizzeria?”

In general, European tourism specialists want clear and coherent guidelines so that everybody understands what is required.

Breton said the European Union was working on harmonised rules for welcoming tourists that could be unveiled “in the coming days.”

Johan Vincent, researching how economic crises have impacted tourism, notes that “tourism has always bounced back because those concerned have adapted to the crises they have faced.”

The price tag is likely to be huge however, given that a country like Spain, the number two destination worldwide, forecasts a 64 percent drop in tourist arrivals this year.

Exceltur, which groups leaders from 28 Spanish airlines, hotels, tourist agencies and related companies, expects the sector to lose up to 60 percent of its annual sales.

Breton wants “a Marshall Plan for tourism,” similar to the one that helped Europe recover from World War II.

He estimates it would need one to €2 trillion ($1.08-2.16 trillion).

A potential obstacle to joint action is that tourism is crucial for some, but not all EU members, in particular countries such as France, Greece, Italy and Spain but also some of the smaller states such as Croatia.

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COVID-19

Health experts advise end of masks on public transport in Spain

Spanish health experts have advised the government that the use of masks should no longer be obligatory on public transport, but no concrete date has yet been set.

Health experts advise end of masks on public transport in Spain

Health experts who advise the Spanish Ministry of Health have said that masks should no longer be mandatory on public transport, but with the caveat that the government should first wait and observe the epidemiological situation in China, which has experienced a surge in case numbers since it abandoned its strict ‘Zero Covid’ strategy at the end of 2022, following widespread civil unrest.

The use of masks on public transport has now been the norm in Spain for almost three years, since the start of the pandemic. 

Speaking to Ser Canarias, Darias said: “We are getting closer and closer [to the end of having to wear a mask], but we will have to see how things evolve in order to make that decision; obviously the epidemiological situation is getting better and better, but we have to see how the issue of China evolves”. 

Reports in the Spanish press suggest some kind of agreement was made during a meeting between the government and the experts in December that masks would no longer be compulsory after assessing the situation in China, however, there is still no fixed date.

Back in October 2022, Spain’s ‘Emergency Unit’ suggested that mask rules would not be reviewed until March 2023 at the earliest, but more recently it said that it does not seem necessary to wait for March to remove the mask rule. 

According to recent Ministry of Health figures, just 2.79 percent of hospital beds in Spain are taken up by Covid-19 patients.

READ ALSO: Face masks to remain mandatory on public transport in Spain until March 2023

The use of masks indoors in Spain ceased to be mandatory on April 20th, 2022, after almost two years, however, they have remained mandatory in hospitals, pharmacies and, crucially, also on buses, metro, trains, planes and taxis.

While the mask rules have been strictly enforced in some places in Spain such as Seville and Valencia, in other cities such as Barcelona, many people refuse to wear them, despite the regulations still officially being in place. 

READ ALSO: Spain now requires Covid certificates for arrivals from China

In China, figures suggest that almost 60,000 people have died as a result of Covid-19 in a single month amid the spike in cases following the end of the country’s draconian restrictions. In response, Spain reintroduced health control checks for travellers arriving from China. 

It seems that Darias and the Spanish government are waiting to see how the situation plays out in China first, but all the indications and expert advice seems to suggest that masks will no longer be mandatory in public transport sometime very soon. 

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