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EU tourist hot spots urge Germans to keep vacation plans

May 18, 2020

Germany's top diplomat Heiko Maas held a conference with his Mediterranean counterparts to discuss plans for the summer tourism season. Countries like Greece and Croatia have weathered the pandemic relatively well.

A man disinfects a sunbed
Image: Reuters/C. Baltas

Restarting tourism in the EU

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas held a video conference with several of his counterparts across the EU on Monday to discuss efforts to reopen borders and restart the tourism economy. Travel and tourism account for a major part of GDP in member states like Italy, Croatia, Spain, and Greece. Maas still struck a cautious note after the talks. 

Under the new plans, cross-border movement will be reinstated in phases, based on coronavirus transmission rates and coordinated by EU member states.

"It will be crucial to ensure that our citizens cannot just travel freely within Europe, but can also safely return home," the ministers said in a joint statement.

Maas said he hoped to lift Germany's blanket travel ban after the current one expires on June 14 and instead offer guidance for individual countries. But he still struck a cautious note after the talks.

"We shouldn't get too excited about the possibility of a quick return to 'business as usual,'" he said. "We want to make summer holidays possible, but only under responsible circumstances. That is why it will be necessary to tell people very clearly that there will be restrictions everywhere — on beaches, in restaurants and in city centers." 

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias was particularly confident in his country's ability to provide a safe summer vacation spot in comments to German newspaper group Redaktions Netzwerk Deutschland, and was keen to urge German tourists not to cancel their plans. 

"The aim is to reestablish free and safe travel within the EU," he said.

Greece has emerged as one of EU member states least affected by the coronavirus pandemic, partly due to an extremely strict and very early lockdown. In a country of 10.5 million people, there have only been 2,834 recorded cases of COVID-19 and 163 deaths. The country has already begun to reopen its institutions and economy, including its world-famous beaches.

Read more: Which European Union countries are open for summer tourism?

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic echoed Dendias in an interview with Die Welt daily, saying his country's hotels and beaches were "well-prepared" to welcome tourists this summer. With its relatively small population of 4 million, Croatia has recorded 2,226 infections and 95 fatalities.

"There's a good chance that we will be able to travel this summer not only around Germany but abroad in Europe," said Thomas Bareiss, the German government's tourism commissioner, in comments to the Stuttgarter Zeitung daily.

Bavaria's state premier, Markus Söder, reacted skeptically to the plans, particularly concerning three of Europe's worst-hit countries: "Unlike Heiko Maas, I don't believe that in a month's time we will be able to travel to Spain, Italy or France again," Söder said. "We're walking on thin ice." 

In the past week, countries like Spain, Italy, and Portugal have all announced dates in early to mid-June to welcome back international travelers. 

Read more: Portugal pins economic hopes on early reopening of tourism

Countries reliant on tourism revenue have had to balance the economic need to restart the tourist season with continuing to observe physical distancing and hygiene rules that are necessary to slow the spread of the pandemic.

The group of top diplomats is expected to release some details of how the bloc will handle tourism this summer following the conference in the early afternoon.

es/rt (AFP, dpa)

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