Tim Fairhurst, ETOA’s Director of Policy, reflects on recent multinational discussions about tourism and the COVID-19 crisis


“Don’t leave anyone behind!” 

Tourism is making us all talk. It is also making us think. Last week, ETOA joined a video conference with European Commissioner Thierry Breton, whose Directorate General, DG GROW, covers a range of industrial sectors.

We were speaking on behalf of NET, an informal network of large private sector travel and tourism associations in Europe. CEOs of Accor Group, Amadeus, Bookdifferent.com, Costa Group and TUI, and the European Travel Commission (ETC) representing the European Tourism Manifesto also participated.

As discussion turned to the interconnectedness of the tourism ecosystem – and what that might mean for its future governance – the Commissioner was clear: it is for the private sector to come up with ideas: “Don’t leave anyone behind!” he insisted.

Europe’s precious mosaic of small businesses, which makes it one of the world’s most diverse and popular destinations, is fragile. Over 70% of its hotel beds are in independent properties (compared with about 20% in the USA). Its countless cafés and campsites, restaurants and attractions, travel agents, tour operators, DMCs, family-run coach companies and small-scale start-ups are all at risk.

Earlier that week, joining the first virtual Tourism Committee meeting run by the OECD, it was impossible not to be struck by the renewed recognition of tourism’s significance to national economies and local communities. One of the most hard-hit sectors, the need for a recovery that is both resilient and sustainable is now a matter of strategic necessity, not a nice-to-have.

Immediate priorities are urgent access to liquidity, resolving the refund and cancellation conundrums, and better information: ‘indefinite’ travel restrictions paralyse any planning. Behind the scenes the EU is responding on an unprecedented scale to coordinate, support and to develop a recovery strategy.

But it is from national governments that Europe’s businesses and citizens are demanding action, and they have all reacted differently. This adds complexity, and cost: we need better governance and coordination. We will also need better data so we can build an evidence-based consensus for recovery and manage our industry better; overtourism is over. For now.

ETOA’s role is to speak out on behalf of business, and to work with destinations throughout Europe towards better tourism. In an unprecedented way, competition is now subordinate to creative collaboration and support. There has never been a better time for the public and private sector to develop ways of working together; our inter-dependence is absolute. How we share our communities and cities has never felt more important now that we are all at home.

The Easter holidays in Europe have traditionally been one of the peaks of the tourism year. This April, Europe’s city squares and cathedrals are quiet. As our thoughts turn to the recovery that will surely come, we are determined that it leaves no-one behind. Tourism isn’t them, it’s us, in different places.

Tim Fairhurst, Director of Policy, ETOA

Tim Fairhurst