Pandemic is dealing European tourism 'staggering' blow

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FILE - In this Friday, March 20, 2020 file photo, a man riding a bicycle takes photographs in a virtually empty Grand Place in Brussels. The European Union on Tuesday, April 21, 2020 says its vaunted tourism industry is facing decline due to the coronavirus crisis while Internal market Commissioner Thierry Breton says it should be the prime sector to receive over a fifth of all recovery funds. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)

HALLE – The European Union says its vaunted tourist industry is facing “staggering” figures of decline because of the coronavirus crisis and the bloc's internal market commissioner wants the sector to be first in line when it comes to recovery funds.

Thierry Breton mentioned figures that the tourism economy could slump up to 70% and will be among the last to recover as the 27-nation bloc is facing perhaps the toughest challenge since its inception.

Across Europe, desolation illustrates the tourism crisis, from empty squares like the Brussels Grand Place to deserted monuments like Rome’s Colosseum while idle gondolas await non-existent tourists in Venice. Arrival areas in airports stand empty and beaches, basking in the sunshine, are deserted.

Europe is hardly alone in facing hardship — what with the deserted waterfront under Cape Town's Table Mountain and the closed-off pyramids outside Cairo. But Breton said the European market accounts for half of world tourism.

The unprecedented scenes since World War II are hitting anything from multinational airlines to family-owned hotels.

“Tourism was the first sector to be hit by the coronavirus and I am sure that it will be the slowest to recover and come out of this phase,” Breton told a European Parliament committee via videolink on Tuesday.

Based on information from international institutions and trade groups, Breton said that “we are looking at quite staggering figures,” adding that between 275 and 400 billion euros ($300 to $435 billion) would be lost for the tourism and travel industry because of the pandemic.

He said the estimate for international travel was a decline of up to 30% this year while tourism could be hit with a slump between 45% and 70% in its economy.