Over the last 15 years, the European tourism ecosystem has been confronted with successive shocks and managed to absorb and/or adapt. The COVID-19 pandemic has, however, been unprecedented in its intensity and length. Therefore, EU actions also aim to increase the resilience of the tourism ecosystem.
The green transition, the digital transition and efforts on accessibility are part of the solution. Further improvement of the regulatory environment and public funding can also boost the tourism ecosystem’s resilience.
EU actions aim to increase the resilience of the European tourism ecosystem, i.e. its capacity to absorb and/or adapt to shocks. Tourism resilience depends on many factors, such as
- business demography
- labour market level of diversification
- level of seasonality
- regulatory environment
- type/level of public funding
The green transition, the digital transition and efforts on accessibility are ways to lessen problems linked to low diversification and high seasonality. Meanwhile, other EU actions focus on improving the regulatory environment and public funding for the tourism ecosystem.
To facilitate entry into the EU and the Schengen area, the EU is working on visa facilitation (reducing the number and level of requirements, simplifying the application process through digitalisation, and reducing decision time). It is also working on further visa exemptions, for instance, for Gulf State nationals. For international travellers who are not required to hold a visa when travelling to the Schengen Area, the EU will introduce automated IT systems increasing safety and security for all: the Entry/Exit System and the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS).
EU Digital COVID Certificate (EU DCC)
The EU has developed new procedures and documentation to help manage the COVID-19 pandemic, minimising restrictions to travel within the EU and into the EU. The EU DCC Regulation has been extended until end-June 2023, with more than 90 countries either connected to the EU DCC gateway or that have applied to do so.
In April 2022, the EU modernised the VAT rate regime by updating the list of goods and services with reduced VAT rates and adding a provision to enable EU countries to respond swiftly to exceptional circumstances, like pandemics, humanitarian crises or natural disasters. Key sectors of the tourism ecosystem, like hospitality, are on that list. The Commission is also evaluating the VAT scheme for travel agents and options for possible simplification.
Coordinated management and updated information on travelling
The integrated political crisis response
The IPCR mechanism brings together EU countries and EU institutions to coordinate responses to cross-sectoral crises at the highest political level. Concrete measures regarding border crossing include the Council Recommendation on a coordinated approach to facilitate safe free movement during the COVID-19 pandemic (crossing of intra-EU borders) and the Council Recommendation on the temporary restriction of non-essential travel into the EU.
‘Re-open EU’ web platform
The Commission created the Re-open EU web platform, containing useful information for people wishing to travel within the European Union. Travellers can consult information specific to each EU country in order to travel smoothly and safely. The platform’s content is available in all EU official languages.
Besides public funding of tourism up- and re-skilling programmes, the following measures enhance tourism’s resilience.
Investment in transport infrastructures
EU investments in TEN-T aim to build a multimodal transport network across the Union, comprising railways, inland waterways, short sea shipping routes, highways and airports. It will increase the resilience of the ecosystem by giving travellers more options to reach their chosen destinations.
When crises are intense and long-lasting, state aid schemes help absorb the shock by keeping qualified staff first needed for quicker restarts (staff with security clearance at airports, airline flying crews, travel agency IT specialists, etc.). The EU mobilised its funds to help EU countries fund their temporary unemployment schemes. To support sectors most affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Commission adopted a temporary framework on 23 March 2022, allowing EU countries to provide state aid more quickly. In addition, EU countries have the possibility to resort to the temporary framework adopted in March 2020 to support the economy during the COVID-19 outbreak. This framework ended on 30 June 2022 but allows EU countries to get more support until end-June 2023 (by turning existing loans into subsidised interest loans, subsidised loans into grants, etc.).
After major shocks, promotion campaigns showing that tourism in Europe is safe, secure, and a good value for money accelerate the restart and recovery of the tourism ecosystem. See the section on awards and outreach activities.
Accessibility of tourism
With approximately 87 million persons with disabilities and an ageing EU population, investing in the accessibility of tourism is essential for this specific consumer base. Moreover, as highlighted in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (to which the EU and all the EU countries are parties) and the strategy for the rights of persons with disabilities 2021-2030, they have the right to access tourism.
The accessibility of tourism for persons with disabilities is rather broad and deals with several elements. For instance, it includes the accessibility of infrastructure and services, accessibility of information at destinations or on the web, information about the accessibility of tourism services, the need for accessible accommodation, and accessibility of new forms of tourism (e.g. ecological tourism).
Various EU policies may be connected to tourism’s accessibility. For instance, the New European Bauhaus initiative or the accessibility requirements in the European Accessibility Act can contribute to improving accessibility and inclusiveness. Developing innovative solutions can also enhance the tourism experience of persons with disabilities and ensure accessibility. For example, developing accessible virtual reality and augmented reality solutions can provide alternative ways to access natural and cultural sites.
Making tourism accessible also brings advantages to the tourism ecosystem as it would increase the potential demand, promote off-season tourism and balance seasonality effects, as well as improve the ecosystem’s reputation.
More information on accessibility
The transition pathway for tourism dedicates several actions to this specific topic.
The European Capitals of Smart Tourism initiative recognises outstanding achievements by European cities as tourism destinations in four categories. Accessibility is one of them, together with sustainability, digitalisation, as well as cultural heritage and creativity. EU-accessible cities with over 50 000 inhabitants also receive the EU Access City Award.
The EU disability card ensures equal access to benefits across borders for persons with disabilities, mainly concerning culture, leisure, sport and transport. The card is mutually recognised between EU countries participating in the initial pilot project. As part of the strategy for the rights of persons with disabilities 2021-2030 and one of its flagship initiatives, the Commission proposes a European disability card by the end of 2023, aiming for recognition in all EU countries.
Further information about accessibility and persons with disabilities is available on the dedicated web pages of the European Commission.