April 28, 2020 – A video conference including Tourism Ministers of the EU Member States, chaired by Croatian Tourism Minister Gari Cappelli, was held as part of the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
Index.hr reports that issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications for the tourism sector were discussed at the conference.
Ministers and senior officials from all EU Member States and European Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton attended the video conference. At the invitation of the Croatian Presidency, Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), presented UNWTO initiatives on tourism activation at the conference.
Croatian Tourism Minister Gari Cappelli said there must be a joint plan at the EU level to tackle the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which would include, among other things, adopting a standard travel protocol and a “COVID-19 passport”, which would be valid for all EU countries on the departure and arrival of tourists.
“We must allow as much as we can to open the borders, but with the protocol on how exactly it will be implemented, and we must then respect it all,” says Cappelli.
Travel would include road, rail, sea, and air travel, and while insisting on adopting a standard protocol, Cappelli says a cooperation agreement is also possible bilaterally.
Cappelli hopes that by the end of May, at least at the bilateral level, they could agree to open some kind of tourist borders with some countries, with a respectable number of countries already interested. However, the countries must meet the health and safety aspect, where epidemiologists are the main focus.
He says that individual countries have begun to prepare individually, adding that Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic has already talked to the prime ministers of individual countries, including Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who is interested in opening borders through road or air corridors.
Cappelli notes that in the first proposals of the multiannual European budget until 2027, tourism did not have prominent importance in terms of finances, but after the COVID-19 crisis, it has completely changed. “It is the unique view of all countries that tourism will have to make one big step forward in this budget, as opposed to what was planned,” Cappelli says.
He also said that tourism is crucial in saving and strengthening certain European economies, such as the Italian and Spanish ones, which, like Croatia, have a high share of tourism in total GDP.
Cappelli also recalled the Croatian initiative to better position tourism within the EU, presented at the 2018 meeting of tourism ministers in Sofia. The initiative also included the creation of a special fund for tourism, for reasons of potential problems that some countries might have, such as the refugee crisis, floods, and now the coronavirus pandemic.
He points out that support has been obtained for this and that financial and all other mechanisms are put in place in order for tourism to take a different position than it has so far.
At the ministerial meeting, Cappelli pointed out that tourism represents 10 percent of the EU GDP, employs a total of almost 12 percent of employees, and is also the fourth EU export category, with consumption generating more than €400 billion in revenue.
“It is therefore important to encourage the creation of joint solutions for the crisis in the tourism sector caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but also to create programs and plans for combating similar threats in the future. For this reason, I am particularly pleased that the meeting of the European Council members last week agreed on setting up a Recovery Fund, which will target the hardest-hit sectors and geographical parts of Europe,” said Cappelli.
In addition to representatives from all EU Member States, the meeting was attended by European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services Thierry Breton, as well as Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Zurab Pololikashvili.
Breton stressed that emergency measures and resources made available by the Commission should support Member States’ efforts to maintain stability in the short and medium-term. He urged the members to take full advantage of them and to provide the opportunities they offer to workers who are most affected by the current situation.
“We will need extraordinary resources to overcome this crisis. We need a new Marshall Plan with a strong EU budget that will accelerate the path to European recovery and a stronger and more resilient Union,” Breton said
Pololikashvili called on the Commission to prioritize tourism within the EU’s recovery plan.
Cappelli also answered journalists’ questions, saying that the Croatian National Tourist Board (HTZ) had developed a marketing program to attract and retain domestic tourists, including a “Cro card”. When accommodations open in 15-20 days, Croatia should be ready for foreign but especially domestic tourists, he said.
“We are trying to find as many models as possible to keep everyone who could spend something in Croatia and have them use our benefits and models,” says Cappelli, adding that domestic tourists make up about 13 percent of total tourism spending.
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