BRUSSELS, May 13 (Reuters) - The European Union executive will recommend on Wednesday that border restrictions be gradually lifted and travel stalled by the coronavirus pandemic allowed to restart in order to revive tourism, a major industry across the 27-country bloc.
Nearly all travel has been halted in Europe, a devastating blow for the tourism sector, which normally contributes almost one-tenth of the EU’s economic output.
Even within the Schengen area, comprising 26 EU and other European countries, and where frontiers are normally invisible, at least 17 countries have put emergency border controls in place to contain the virus.
The executive European Commission will make a slew of non-binding recommendations, including that targeted restrictions replace a general ban on travel, and that internal border checks slowly be lifted as the health situation improves.
The three Baltic states have already decided to reopen borders to each others’ citizens from May 15, creating a “travel bubble” within the EU as pandemic curbs are eased.
But the overall picture is not rosy, with even countries that are cautiously relaxing their strictest lockdown measures moving towards imposing a two-week quarantine period for travellers arriving from abroad.
The Commission estimates some 6.4 million jobs could be lost in tourism, which employed 12 million people before the crisis.
The sector suffered an 80-90% loss in turnover in the first quarter of 2020, four hospitality industry lobby groups said, and is braced for a disastrous summer season as the EU faces its deepest-ever recession.
EFFAT, FoodDrinkEurope, FoodServiceEurope and HOTREC said a significant share of the trillion-euro COVID economic recovery fund the bloc is discussing should go toward supporting their sector. They said they needed liquidity support and fiscal relief, as well as other resources to protect jobs.
The Commission will also defy calls from airlines and a group of EU member states led by Germany for the EU to suspend laws guaranteeing travellers a full cash refund for cancelled flights and trips.
It will instead recommend that cash-strapped airlines and travel companies make vouchers they are offering instead of cash more attractive, to convince grounded clients to accept them. (Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Catherine Evans)