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The impact of COVID-19 on travel and tourism in Europe. A collaborative plan for the future

Svend Leirvaag

Vice President of Industry Affairs, Amadeus

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This is the seventh blog post of our COVID-19 series where we explore what Amadeus is doing to support and work alongside our industry during this difficult time. In this new instalment, Svend Leirvaag, Amadeus Vice President of Industry Affairs, discusses how the company has been helping public authorities in Europe understand and respond to the impact of the pandemic on the travel industry.

Mobility and connectivity are cornerstones of the European project.  Since the outset of the COVID-19 crisis it was clear that our ability to travel would be severely curtailed and will remain so for some time.  According to EuroControl, traffic across the European network has declined by 41% during March and it is predicted to decrease by 89% for the full month of April.  The impact on the travel and tourism ecosystem – but especially SMEs - is dramatic.  The OECD predicts a total decline of the global tourism economy by as much as 45%-70% in 2020.

The WTTC estimates that 75 million jobs related to tourism and travel are at risk worldwide, and 27 million of these are in Europe.  A decisive, comprehensive and compassionate response is needed to salvage and ensure the rapid recovery of the sector in the EU.

We need strong European leadership to support the travel and tourism sector

It is therefore reassuring to see a joined-up approach among the EU Commissioners responsible for Internal Market and Industry, Competition and Transport.  Commissioners Breton, Vestager and Vălean have all urged Member States to use the Temporary State Aid Framework to guide their support of the sectors that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis, with a specific reference made to tourism and transport.

Competition Commissioner Vestager’s assurance that state aid should not distort competition nor undermine the Single Market is particularly important, to ensure that the crisis support facilitates the re-emergence of a flourishing tourism and transport sector.  All actors in the tourism and transport ecosystem must be afforded the same opportunities for support and aid.  In Europe we pride ourselves on having a healthy travel market where big and small alike can compete on the merits of their offers to the benefit of EU citizens.  This is something we all must work to protect.

We also appreciate the Commission’s willingness to collaborate with industry throughout this crisis and are working closely with Commissioners Breton and Vãlean in particular.  Given our role as a connector for the global travel ecosystem, we have proactively assisted the EU to help understand the effect of the crisis.  Amadeus has accepted the invitation to participate in a tourism advisory group set up by Commissioner Breton, to share our insights, raise concerns and make recommendations to the Commission. These joint initiatives are examples of how concerted action at EU level promises tangible results for European citizens and European businesses.

A Digital and Sustainable Recovery

Looking ahead, we continue to engage with European institutions, European Member States and the industry at large, to identify and implement the most effective instruments for recovery.  The travel and tourism industry must re-emerge as more resilient, more sustainable, and more digital than ever before. The EU has a great opportunity now to prioritize initiatives that can accelerate recovery through the digital transformation of the travel and tourism sector.

Technology will therefore play a crucial role as an enabler and accelerator of recovery, and digital leaders such as Amadeus are actively exploring ideas on how to support the needs of a post-COVID travel and tourism industry.   With the right policy framework, development and adoption of new technologies will accelerate to reduce risks, remove friction and improve consumer confidence that traveling is safe again.  As a technology company, our solutions that power and enrich the trips of billions of people worldwide every year will have to evolve to respond effectively to many new requirements.

As my colleague Stefan Ropers explained last week, we are analyzing how travel behavior will change. We are already developing enhanced and no-touch self-service and automation capabilities along with building the next generation scalable infrastructure needed to accommodate fluctuations in airline operations and passenger demand.  We are also focused on helping our customers manage the impact of disruptions while optimizing their existing and future operations; and we are constantly providing online training sessions and other support to contribute to rapid recovery.

The travel and tourism industry is resilient and cross-border travel will return.  Many things are likely to change, but fundamentally humans are meant to interact, and we believe this inherent drive will also help accelerate a return to a new normal. 

Getting there will not be easy, and we rely not only on strong political leadership, but also on effective public/private collaboration.  We need to find new models of collaboration that can improve decision making speed and quality.  To this end, we offer our continuous support to the European institutions as we work towards a recovery of the tourism and transport sector in particular, and the European economy in general.

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Amadeus' priorities remain ensuring the health and well-being of our employees and supporting our customers.

Amadeus' priorities remain ensuring the health and well-being of our employees and supporting our customers.

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This article is also available in these languages: Español, Deutsch, Français