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Don't reopen tourism too quickly, Maas warns

April 26, 2020

German Foreign Minister Maas called for the development of common criteria for a return to freedom of travel. His warning followed Austria's announcement that it would open its borders to German and Czech travelers.

An empty beach on the German Baltic Sea coast
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/. Büttner

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has warned against reopening European tourism destinations too quickly, saying that Europe should agree on a shared path back to freedom of travel.

"A European race to see who will allow tourism travel first will lead to unacceptable risks," Maas told the weekly Bild am Sonntag newspaper. 

"We have already experienced what an infection cluster in a popular holiday destination can do to the home countries of the tourists," said Maas, citing the high infection rate at the Austrian ski resort of Ischgl, where hundreds of tourists are believed to have been infected with coronavirus in the early months of the outbreak.

Read more: Where are we heading? Tourism after the coronavirus crisis

Instead, Europe needs a set of common criteria for a way back to freedom of travel, "as quickly as possible, but as responsibly as necessary," Maas said.

The foreign minister's warning followed an announcement made by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz that the country would begin a gradual opening of the border for travelers from the Czech Republic and Germany. 

Austria also ended coronavirus quarantines this week at three of the country's major ski resorts, lifting the restrictions days before they were due to expire. 

"We must not let the hard-won successes of the last few weeks be ruined," said Maas. Otherwise, the travel restrictions would have to be extended even longer, he added.

Read more: Coronavirus in Germany: No end in sight for travel restrictions

Summer vacation — maybe

Meanwhile, Federal Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner is promoting summer vacations in the countryside. There are "many small holiday apartments that can offer farm holidays with your own living space," she told Funke Media Group. "There is also room for sufficient social distancing in many country inns with large outdoor areas."

She said she could imagine that these areas could be part of holiday planning, if distance and hygiene rules were strictly observed, she said. 

However, she added that planning must be done with care. The possibility of vacationing in large hotels, where hundreds of guests meet at the breakfast buffet, is hard to imagine, she said. 

Read more: German court reverses Baltic Sea beach ban

Tourism industry on the brink of bankruptcy

The German Travel Association (DRV) warned that many of its member businesses are on the brink of insolvency as the coronavirus pandemic has seen the travel industry grind to a halt.

Around 60% of travel agencies and tour operators see themselves as directly threatened by bankruptcy, while one in five have already had to lay off employees, according to a Bild am Sonntag report based on a DRV member survey. According to the survey, 80% of the companies have already had to apply for state aid. 

"If we don't soon receive specific support from the federal government, the travel industry as we know it — which is dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises, many small tour operators and travel agencies — will very soon cease to exist," DRV President Norbert Fiebig told the paper.

More than €4.8 billion ($5.2 billion) in revenue has already been lost, and the emergency aid will not be sufficient, he said. Fiebig also called for a rescue package specifically for the 11,000 travel agencies and 2,300 tour operators in Germany. 

lc/sms (Reuters, AFP, epd)

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