Santorini, Greece

Santi Visalli

It will be a summer “like no other,” the European Commission said Wednesday, as the institution unveiled new guidelines on how the tourist industry should reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Tourism is a vital part of the European economy, accounting for about 10% of its gross domestic product. The industry is particularly important for countries such as Greece, Spain, Italy and Malta, where the summer season attracts many visitors from around the globe.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken the industry to its core, with firms like Tui planning major job cuts in an effort to reduce costs.

There are currently different travel restrictions inside and outside the EU. Some would-be holidaymakers are worried about leaving their homes; while others simply cannot afford a vacation this year as they have lost, or fear for, their job.

“Millions of SMEs (small and medium-sized businesses) and family-run businesses working in accommodation, restaurants, passenger transport and travel agencies risk bankruptcies and job losses, they urgently need to go back to work,” Thierry Breton, the European commissioner for the internal market, said Wednesday on the urgent need to reopen the sector.

Brussels highlighted new measures Wednesday on what needed to be done before welcoming back visitors.

How should EU governments act?

Firstly, EU nations should only receive tourists if their situation with the coronavirus allows, meaning their contamination rate is somewhat under control.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said that member states need to have enough capacity in their health-care systems to deal with potential new cases involving locals and tourists.

European governments should also have a decent testing capacity and good contact tracing, including the encouragement of mobile app usage.

What about hotels, restaurants and other firms?

For tourism businesses themselves, there’ll likely be a lot of preparation in the coming weeks.

According to the Commission, staff should get training on the symptoms of Covid-19; businesses should decrease the physical presence of employees as much as possible; and social-distancing measures should be applied in communal areas.

This means there should be a limited number of guests in restaurants and lobbies.

And there should be slot bookings for meals and to use swimming pools, in order to limit the number of people in the same space at the same time.

The European Commission also said that visitors should receive plenty of information related to the coronavirus before their arrival in any new EU destination.

What about aviation?

Airlines should also take measures to reduce the risk of contamination.

They should strengthen on-board ventilation systems, the EU said, avoid concentrations of passengers in certain areas; explore a best-seat allocation system and promote the use of electronic documents and payments.

The European Commission also suggested reducing movement in the cabin, including less baggage and less contact with crew members.

Whenever these measures are not able to be met, the Commission said staff and visitors should rely on protective equipment, such as the use of face masks.