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Lobby groups call for EU travel rules harmonisation

European travel industry lobby groups are calling for “a common and fully-aligned approach” on the eligibility and timing of Covid vaccination booster doses in the EU.

Signatories representing airlines, airports, cruise lines, tour operators and hotels want EU member states to “better coordinate and align their heath and travel policy responses to avoid re-imposing restrictions to the freedom of movement across Europe”.

The groups say the validity of booster jabs must be consistent across the continent, and linked to the EU Digital Covid Certificate, rather than decided on a country-by-country basis.

They want EU states to harmonise their lists of recognised vaccinations, the duration of the validity of tests and vaccinations, and align on mixed vaccinations and booster shots. The groups advise the seven WHO-approved vaccines should be accepted for international travel.

Signatories include Airlines For Europe (A4E), Airports Council International (ACI) Europe, Cruise Lines International Association (Clia) Europe, The European Travel Agents and Tour Operators Associations (ECTAA), European Tourism Association (ETOA), European Travel Commission (ETC), EU Travel Tech, the European Travel Retail Confederation, Hospitality Europe, European Regions for Competitive and Sustainable Tourism and the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).

A statement said: “Failure to adopt and implement such a common approach would inevitably lead to unacceptable divergences in travel regimes, compromising not just the freedom of movement but also citizens’ trust in European and national responses to current epidemiological developments.”

The group also called for digitisation of verification procedures, noting manual checks at borders “continue to cause complexity and long queues at airports and ports” and warns “the situation might become extremely difficult to manage”.

Antigen Covid tests should be systematically accepted as an alternative to slower and more expensive PCR tests across all members states, they add.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) says the current travel restrictions are ineffective in reducing virus transmission, hospitalisations, or deaths.

But the group believes that, with 76.6% of EU adults fully vaccinated and community transmission already high most states, limiting border crossing would “not carry any public health benefit” but “negatively impact local economies”.

“Mandatory travel restrictions and public health protocols must be based on strong evidence of benefit, as well as principles of proportionality,” it added.

It comes amid the backdrop of counties in Europe adopting stricter restrictions as Covid cases rise. Austria has entered a national lockdown and made vaccination mandatory and there have been protests in Belgium and the Netherlands in response to stricter measures being considered.

The group warned governments across the EU could see up to €35 billion wiped from the travel sector’s contribution to the economy before the end of 2021 “if severe travel restrictions come back into force”.

And it believes that, if restrictions were to remain locked in place for much of next year, “it could result in a loss of up to €143.7 billion from the EU economy”.

“European tourism cannot function with inconsistent and constantly changing national approaches,” said A4E.

“Viewed from non-EU markets, Europe once again looks increasingly complicated.

“Coordination is the only solution to protect the sector from the effects of this prolonged uncertainty in Europe.

“The vaccination rollout across the EU is among the best in the world. Travel and tourism businesses have also developed and implemented strong health and safety protocols that assure that travel can  take place under safe circumstances. These investments should not be lost by reimposing restrictions on cross-border movement.”

The WTTC says more than two million travel and tourism jobs were lost across the EU last year, and its latest research suggests a further three million jobs could go if wide scale restrictions were enforced in 2022.

Hotel booking site Trivago noted Austria bookings slumped by 50%, the Netherland’s by 35% and a “downward trend” in Germany.

Chief executive Axel Hefer said: “European travel intentions have been affected by the rise in Covid cases across the continent, and by the lockdowns and announcements in many European countries, with a decrease in searches for domestic and international travel.

“Interestingly the UK, with no soft restrictions on the horizon, does not follow this trend.”

Trivago’s international searches for UK hotels are up in November compared to October, but domestic searches are down by 20%.

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