Policy Update, March 2021

European Policy

Health credentials 

Next week, probably on 17th March, the European Commission will make an announcement about a regulation enabling the development of Digital Green Certificates. These will be health credentials carrying information such as proof of vaccination and test results, including immunity tests. This is progress: there was strong opposition among a ‘health pass’ among some EU countries. Some concerns remain, principally related to data privacy and risk of discrimination. The idea is that a certificate issued by one member state must be recognised by another. Eventual mutual recognition with other systems or third countries will have to be within scope for the scheme to enable international mobility more fully.

If the regulatory proposal is approved (the process should be fast-tracked) there will be months of development. For now, restrictions on non-essential travel remains the default setting within Europe, not least as some countries are seeing a renewed increase in infection numbers. Some islands and countries are developing bilateral arrangements: Cyprus is not in Schengen, but Greece, Portugal and Spain are. While these travel corridors are stretching the limits of normal Schengen requirements for a co-ordinated approach in respect of non-EU countries, it appears they will be allowed to operate, not least because internal border controls remain in place, as does widespread use of quarantine on return. See ‘Borders‘ below. We continue to call for better testing capacity, including prior to return home.

ETOA is also involved with the OECD’s ‘blueprint for international mobility’ which is a concerted effort to reach across the various national regulatory competences (health, immigration, trade etc.) to develop a set of protocols that at least some countries could use as basis for bilateral re-opening. This should be seen as complementary to EU and other efforts.


Widespread internal border re-opening within the Schengen area is evidently still some way off. Once Schengen internal borders open (temporary controls can be found here), it would be illogical to exclude other European countries and long-haul visitors who can meet health requirements, but the signs are that external borders are not seen as a priority. A roadmap for re-opening has been called for by ETOA and industry partners. To review the situation at the end of the month, we are running a webinar Re-opening Europe: follow the evidence on 30th March. For further information and registration, click here.

Some EU Schengen states have stated their intention to allow non-essential travel from non-EU countries from potentially May. The EU is encouraging EU Schengen states to adopt a co-ordinated approach and the European Council reviews the recommended list of non-EU countries every 2 weeks for which restrictions on non-essential travel should be lifted. EU non-Schengen states (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland and Romania) have been invited to follow this recommendation too. Not all EU member states are following the recommendation and final discretion on border entry remains a national competence. Rules and travel advisories of the departing country should also be monitored. Our COVID-19 resources page links to relevant official pages. Please continue to contact policy@etoa.org with questions.


Further information on international travel to the UK will be known once its Global Travel Taskforce has submitted its second report to the UK PM on 12th April. For now, the roadmap for England states the target date for non-essential international travel to be permitted is from 17th May at the earliest. The devolved nations have currently not indicated a target date.

The Global Travel Taskforce is formed of UK Government departments. Consultation is taking place with the travel and tourism industry, including ETOA. We have reviewed the recommendations from the first report with UK Government. In addition, globaltraveltaskforce@dft.gov.uk has been set up for businesses to submit comments. A high number of responses is expected: it is important they build an accurate picture of potential business should international travel be restored sooner rather than later. If you wish, please Cc policy@etoa.org in any submissions you make.

Suggested content might include:
– highlight protocols industry is adopting to operate and manage tours
– mode of transport leaving and arriving into UK
– approximate economic value of tours planned for summer and autumn 2021 and origin market.
– approximate group tour numbers planned

Visa policy: e-visas

Looking further ahead, the EU is considering the introduction of digital visas, either as an option or a mandatory replacement to paper visa.  This would be a significant improvement for visa-requiring markets reducing the need to present in person at a visa processing centre. ETOA participates in consultations with the Commission. Irrespective of form of visa, there is still a lot to do to rationalise the range of supporting documentation and related processes. There may be an opportunity to align arrangement for health credentials if visa issuance is contingent on proof of vaccination or immunity, for example. ETOA has been pushing for the adoption of e-visas for a long time, so this represents a welcome development.

Visa policy: mandatory insurance

More welcome news in the form of a report from the Commission re-assessing the need to provide proof of insurance as part of visa application process. ETOA and others have long argued it is irrational to require evidence of insurance during visa application when a. the policy might be cancelled prior to departure, b. it is not certain the application will be successful so it is unfair to require applicant to incur the expense, and c. that the assumption of undue stress on host country health systems was unproven. Broadly, the Commission agrees, and will review the requirements under the Schengen visa code.

VAT in Germany

Our guidance in respect of change of treatment of VAT in Germany remains the same, but there has been a development. The German finance ministry has indicated that it is exploring the possibility that the change may be postponed. This is grounds for cautious optimism; pending confirmation it is possible the situation will remain problematic, not least in respect of retroactive effect on sale of product yet to be delivered. In current circumstances, postponement would be the best-case outcome from a lobbying perspective: the January decree implements a strict understanding of EU law so in that sense is unobjectionable but, as it happens, it is a law that has been found to be unworkable, on whose application the Commission itself had been found at fault. Suspending a change pending further analysis and review would be an appropriate response. It is usual for Member States to avoid making unilateral changes of application in an area of law under active review by the Commission, particularly when the implications of more widespread adoption of such changes would be significant.

VAT in Croatia

We have learned that Croatia has changed its law in respect of VAT and non-EU operators: at time of writing we are still seeking further clarification. We will publish any news here.

Package Travel Directive (PTD)

The Commission has published its report on the implementation of the 2015 PTD on 1st March (ETOA fed into the consultation process as part of an expert group). Pending meaningful review, particularly in respect of financial protection for both consumers and business, it is notable that refunds from airlines in particular remains a vexed issue and the subject of vigorous lobbying, not least because some airlines have benefitted significantly from state aid during the crisis.

Brexit – guiding in Europe

For an overview of the impact on travel, please see our Brexit Post-Transition page. Regarding guiding, please review the categories described in the grid on the guiding regulation page. Note especially the overall duration of stay: it will be noticed if any individual has exceeded 90 days in 180 rolling period in the Schengen area/3 months in Ireland/6 months in UK. If they have done so, they will need to present justification on re-entry.

Tour guides travelling on coaches – We have received clarification on how local tour guides are affected when being picked up and dropped off in Great Britain by EU coach operators and in EU (outside Ireland) by UK coach operators as cabotage is no longer permitted and the Interbus Agreement does not make reference to tour guides. We understand tour guides are not affected and thus the status quo remains as prior to Brexit.

ETOA Tour guide ID Card (TGID)

The application page has been updated and the system is expected to go live later this month. Operators who have contacted tourguide@etoa.org to notify us of the individual managing ETOA Tour Guide ID card issue will be contacted. Otherwise, please check here for updates. The page includes some of the guidance provided to operators in the gated area of the site; this may pre-empt some of the questions from individuals, particularly UK citizens wishing to provide services in the EU.

Tourist Taxes

Our Member-only tourist tax rate pages are currently being reviewed and updated. The following countries’ data has been completed; more to follow later in March: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain

Insight Hub

Check our latest statistics, opinion and research pieces on the Insight Hub.

UK Covid Financial Support – Additional Restrictions Grant

The UK Government’s Budget last week announced an additional £425 million of discretionary business grant funding to English Councils for the Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG).Amount of funding and eligibility is Council discretion but the UK tourism minister has name-checked (column 503) coach and tour operators in UK Parliament as the type of businesses who should be receiving this grant. A deadline has not been set yet for applications whereas other pre-Budget grant schemes (mainly for legally closed businesses) are to end on 31 March 2021.

For an overview of UK Government financial support and England only grant schemes, please see here. Information on grant schemes in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and other European countries can be found via our COVID-19 resources page. Please continue to contact policy@etoa.org or the wider team at ETOA for assistance and questions.


Upcoming Events

Destination 2030: It’s All about Athens, 23rd March at 12:00 PM EET, register here

Re-opening Europe: follow the evidence, 30th March 2021 at 02:00 PM BST, register here

VIVA Italian Marketplace, 15th April 2021 online, register here

Hoteliers European Marketplace, 22nd April 2021 online, register here

China European Marketplace, 11th May 2021 online, register here

City Fair, 8th June 2021 online, register here

Member information with ETOA

If you have not done so already, please review your company information via this link. To see whom ETOA currently holds as the ‘main contact’ check your listing via this link (you will need to be logged in to see all the information).

Meanwhile, please continue to send any comments you may have about website to: policy@etoa.org

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