Summer is finally here. After long months of indispensable travel restrictions, Europe is opening up for tourism again. For most of us, this means the prospect of long-awaited travel, discovery, and entertainment – in short: life! For our economy, it means a much-needed boost after a drop of 70% of revenues in EU tourism in 2020 and up to 11 million jobs at risk.

Phone in front of a beach

The safe reboot of tourism in Europe is possible because of the concerted effort of the EU, national authorities, and industry. And last but not least – our collective and individual effort.

 

Before rolling out our beach towel (or putting on our mountain gear), let’s make sure we complete these 3 challenges.

 

Challenge #1: Winning the production race

Status: completed – but we need to do more

 

In March, I set an ambitious target for Europe: delivering enough vaccines by mid-July to vaccinate more than 70% of the adult population. This is an important milestone to re-start travel and tourism. Now, three months later, I am pleased to report that we are on course to reach our target.

 

It has been a rocky road. After winning the scientific race, Europe had to win the industrial race. We had to rapidly increase the number of production sites, resolve bottlenecks in our supply chains and regain our strategic autonomy in the production of key vaccine ingredients. And we had to use our diverse vaccine portfolio to compensate the unexpected delivery shortfalls of one manufacturer that failed to meet its contractual obligations.

 

We can be proud of the result: Europe has become the world’s biggest mRNA vaccine producer and is playing a leading role in fighting the global pandemic.

 

And most importantly, by mid-July, we will have delivered between 500 and 550 million doses to vaccination centres all around the European Union – enough to vaccinate more than 70% of the adult population.

 

This is a huge accomplishment, but let me be clear: this is not the end of the road.

 

Firstly, we need to fight vaccine hesitancy and make sure that all these vaccines are administered as quickly as possible. I am pleased to see the creative approaches across Member States: from vaccination marathons to mobile vaccination stations in rural areas.

 

Secondly, Europe needs to help ensure global immunity. This is not only our duty, but also a necessity to fight the emergence of COVID variants. Europe is already the world’s biggest vaccine exporter and we must continue to supply vaccines, in particular to low and middle-income countries. I am also convinced that we have to help other countries produce vaccines themselves. A new Team Europe initiative (European Commission and Member States) will mobilise 1 billion euros to help African countries establish their own manufacturing capacity and improve access to vaccines.

 

These initiatives will be critical not only to fight the pandemic, but also to ensure a sustained re-opening of travel and tourism.

 

Challenge #2: Ensuring free travel

Status: on track – but Europe needs more Europe

 

The Commission is helping people travel safely across Europe, for example by providing up-to-date information or safety protocols (Re-Open EU and the Tourism COVID-19 Safety Seal), ensuring the interoperability of mobile contract tracing apps, and facilitating safe free movement of citizens with the EU Digital COVID Certificate.

 

With the EU Digital COVID Certificate, from 1 July at the latest, every European will be able to prove being vaccinated, having tested negative or being immune from a previous infection. Today, 17 Member States are already using the EU system. But Member States still need to step up their efforts to ensure that they can seamlessly issue certificates and verify them without delay, especially at busy airports. To reap the full benefits of the system, they should also facilitate acceptance for domestic purposes, such as access to festivals or other crowded events. We also need to acknowledge that the diversity of criteria among Member States on issues such as age, acceptance of antigen tests or periods of validity for PCR tests, is far from ideal.

 

The EU promotes a coordinated approach to the travel restrictions that Member States impose both to travellers within the EU and from third countries. However, since the Council recommendations are not binding on Member States, here again in practice we find a patchwork of different rules – making it hard to navigate for domestic and foreign tourists.

 

The present situation shows the limitations of the current system. I believe that we should explore how to grant the EU a bigger role in ensuring a common approach to cross-border travel in times when free movement is not a given. The Single Market Emergency Instrument, which we will propose in 2022, will provide an opportunity to explore how to better preserve our citizens’ interests in times of crisis.

 

Challenge #3: Reimagining a more resilient tourism ecosystem together

Status: initiated – We can’t go back to tourism as we knew it, and we’re working on it.

 

Of course, the shock to the tourism sector has been such that it will take more than a semi-normal summer season to restore it. And, like other European industries, its future will hinge on our collective ability to transition to a greener, more digital and resilient future.

 

The recovery is a good moment to challenge the status quo. Consumers are increasingly looking for greener options, less crowded destinations, more flexibility.

 

Let’s make sure that we seize this opportunity for travellers, tourism businesses big and small, local communities and the environment.

 

For example, by using data (anonymised and aggregated) to optimise a wide range of tourist services,  increase energy efficiency of buildings used for tourism, or by allowing visitors to tailor make their experience. By promoting “circular hotels”, where green waste is recovered for composting and use in horticulture, and the produce is in turn purchased by hotels. Or by developing new apps, as Mallorca is doing, which allow beachgoers to know just how crowded the beach is in real time, plus learn all about the current safety measures and protocols.

 

These are the kind of examples that I have in mind when saying that by 2030, Europe should be a top quality destination known globally for its sustainable offer, and attracting responsible and environmentally conscious travellers.

 

We will mobilise all funding possibilities, starting with the Recovery and Resilience Facility of course, to support the transformation of the tourism ecosystem – with a strong focus on promoting the new skills that will be needed for this transition.   

 

This transition will only be possible if we all pull together. Tomorrow, we will present a first outline of a “transition pathway” for a more resilient, sustainable and innovative tourism ecosystem. I invite public authorities, industry, social partners, NGOs and other stakeholders to work together to agree on joint objectives, actions and a calendar to get there.

 

Because in addition to ensuring a safe tourism season this summer, now is the time to prepare for our future summers.

 

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