Delta virus on the rise, absent Britons curb Europe’s tourist hopes


  • EU COVID travel certificate launched on July 1
  • But summer tourism barely half of normal levels
  • Industry warns of impact on businesses and jobs

LISBON / LONDON, July 1 (Reuters) – While not a full washout, the vital summer tourist season for southern European economies will be less than scorching as the Delta coronavirus spreads and that travel barriers keep Brits and other sun seekers at home.

A European Union COVID-19 travel certificate launched on Thursday could help some take trips, but arrivals at tourist hot spots from Portugal to Croatia are expected to remain well below normal levels, endangering businesses and hotel jobs.

“The recovery of tourism in Portugal has come to a halt,” said Raul Martins, head of the country’s AHP hotels association, of new travel restrictions from Britain and Germany, which are normally markets lucrative for the beaches, restaurants and clubs of Portugal.

The rapidly spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus is leading to an increase in cases in the Algarve’s tourist magnet, Albufeira, and is responsible for more than half of new infections in the capital Lisbon.

Add to that Britain’s decision last month to remove Portugal from its “green list” of destinations and Germany’s decision to limit travel there just before the introduction of EU certificates. indicating a tourist’s double vaccination or COVID status.

Even before the German decision and a recent Portuguese rule for unvaccinated British travelers in quarantine, hotels there were forecasting occupancy rates of just 43% this month and 46% for August. AHP said hotels would be more pessimistic if polled now.

With the exception of a few bright spots, the sector is experiencing the same pattern across southern Europe: better than the lost summer of 2020, but barely half the activity it would normally expect before. the pandemic.

In Greece, where tourism accounts for a fifth of the economy, the central bank this week raised concerns over new variants as it slashed forecasts for tourism income in 2021 from 50% to 40% those of 2019, when it welcomed a record 33 million visitors. .

Grigoris Tassios, head of the Hoteliers Association of Greece, said the average occupancy rate of hotels across the country is currently 35-45%, a rate he saw persist until early this month. July.

“Reservations have clearly frozen due to uncertainty over COVID and in particular the Delta variant of late,” he said.

Spain is a little more optimistic, bringing its estimate of this year’s tourist count to 45 million visitors – around 54% of 2019 levels – from 42 million a month ago.

On Wednesday, the Tourism Ministry was particularly optimistic about the German market, expecting the number of German tourists to reach 3.8 million this year, or 77% of 2019 figures.

Mallorca and the other Spanish Balearic Islands are benefiting from the United Kingdom’s decision of June 30 to allow the British to go there without having to quarantine themselves on their return: plane reservations there are at 80 % of pre-pandemic levels.

“Since the restrictions for British tourists were lifted, they are back. In the first 24 hours we had bookings equivalent to 10 days of 2019,” said a spokesperson for Spanish chain Melia Hotels (MEL .MC).

SAVE SUMMER

In the northern European countries that supply sun seekers, the vacation industries are pressuring governments to find safe ways to make more destinations available – and quickly.

Britain’s plan to restart travel in May after more than four months of lockdown has so far disappointed tour operators extremely, with only a limited number of small destinations currently on its “green list” of non-quarantine travel.

“This is not the significant reboot in international travel that the industry desperately needs,” said a spokesperson for ABTA, the UK industry body representing 4,300 travel brands.

He urges the government to follow through on proposals to relax quarantine rules for fully vaccinated people visiting “orange list” countries like Spain and France.

“But it has to happen soon so that businesses can save what is left of the peak summer season, crucial weeks which account for two-thirds of travel agency revenues,” the spokesperson said.

A major headache for UK industry is dealing with sudden rule changes in destination countries – Malta, for example, banned UK visitors who are not fully vaccinated on Tuesday.

The travel sector in Germany is also asking for clarity after the decision to declare Portugal a “viral variant zone”, a measure which implies a quarantine of 14 days for travelers. Industry leaders warned the government this week that any move to include countries like Greece and Spain in this strip would be devastating.

“This current debate on other possible changes unnecessarily baffles people and undermines confidence,” said Thomas Bareiss, federal government tourism commissioner.

Some remain optimistic. Tomas Dvorak, an economist at Oxford Economics, said southern Europe could still recover by the end of the year to around 85% of its 2019 levels if vaccination campaigns continue to scale up and reduce global infections.

But a McKinsey report this week painted a grim picture of the wider damage to the region’s economy, with a full recovery in foreign tourism in some cases unlikely until 2024-2025.

He estimated that Portugal would lose some 52 billion euros in revenue between 2020-2023 – the equivalent of a quarter of its total GDP in 2019 – with up to 600,000 jobs potentially affected.

In the case of Spain, he said international tourism may not recover until 2025, putting 4.4 million direct and indirect jobs at risk. It saw Italy benefit from a more resilient domestic tourism market to recover earlier in 2024.

While a UN study this week hailed the EU’s COVID-19 pass as a rare example of a country harmonizing travel arrangements, it won’t be enough to save the European summer.

Capital Economics argued that it had not removed the constraints on those who were not fully vaccinated – meaning that many travelers, including children, will still need to be tested for COVID-19 – and that Specific travel rules were always set by national governments.

This is a point that resonates in Portugal, still stung by the brakes on German travel.

“There are different countries and each country wants to show its sovereignty,” said Martins of the AHP. We think the certificate will work, but there are countries that say “my house, my rules”.

Additional reporting by Dan Burns in Washington; Phil Blenkinsop in Brussels; Angeliki Koutantou, George Georgiopoulos and Lefteris Papadimas in Athens; Sarah Young in London; Belen Carreno and Inti Landauro in Madrid; Catarina Demony in Lisbon; Emma Thomasson and Ilona Wissenbach in Berlin; Stéphanie Nebehay in Geneva; written by Mark John; edited by Raïssa Kasolowsky

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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