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European Parliament (Study requested by the TRAN Committee), “Relaunching transport and tourism in the EU after Covid-19, Part IV: Tourism Sector” (Directorate-General for Internal Policies, November 2021).

This thematic briefing provides the European Parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN) with an overview of the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic on the tourism sector, as well as policy recommendations to address the challenges emerging from the crisis. COVID-19 caused a large drop in international tourism arrivals and receipts in 2020, putting EU Member States’ tourism industries in jeopardy in terms of income and job losses. Before international inbound tourism resumes, intra-European and domestic tourism represent the only chance to counterbalance and mitigate the financial losses. The European Travel Commission’s (ETC) report (July 2021) outlined an optimistic scenario for the summer season 2021, expecting a significant tourism rebound in the third quarter of 2021. The spread of the more transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant hindered the consistent use of the EU Digital COVID Certificate as national authorities of some EU Member States adjusted travel protocols accordingly. Travel and Tourism patterns and practices changed due to the pandemic, showing a tendency towards closer destinations (domestic travel, tourism of proximity, short haul trips), longer holidays, last minute bookings, and increased concern about safety and hygiene. Digital and green transitions were emerging trends in the industry, prior to the pandemic. The pandemic accelerated the call for a green and digital transformation. The industry must continue to build digital skills, implement digital solutions, build sustainable infrastructure, and address sustainable travel patterns. The travel and tourism contribution to overall GDP in Europe dropped from a 9.5% share in 2019 to 4.9% in 2020. International tourism arrivals in Europe dropped by 70% in 2020 compared to 2019. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) reported that 3.6 million jobs in the EU have been lost since the outbreak of the pandemic. This figure would be much higher without job protection schemes implemented in most EU Member States. The tourism industry was experiencing a sharp reduction in the workforce, and finding workers is becoming one of the main challenges for stakeholders. In 2020, tourism losses were partially offset by domestic demand. Domestic travel shares in Europe increased from 55% in 2019 to 69% in 2020. The pandemic had an uneven impact on the different sub-sectors of the industry and on destinations. Cities have experienced higher losses than rural destinations. Short- term rentals have been performing better than hotels. Business tourism providers, event organisers as well as travel and tourism operators have experienced the highest losses. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) forecasts two possible scenarios for recovery in 2021 on a global level, ranging from a decrease of international tourist arrivals between 63% and 75% compared to 2019. The introduction of an EU Digital COVID Certificate and its extensions (i.e., national health passes), combined with the vaccine rollout, helped to save the summer season 2021 although the different usage of the passes within each Member State caused some confusion among travellers and residents.