Greek Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis on Thursday said that Europe is expected to be the first region to see tourism recover from the impact of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, but also cited lack of coordination for tourism to restart as a whole.
Speaking during a press conference in Athens on the sidelines of the 66th Meeting of the World Tourism Organization Commission for Europe (CEU), Theoharis cited UNWTO scenarios which see Europe as the region that will lead the restart of tourism recovery this year.
“Greece within Europe is one of the countries that leads this process, spearheads this process, through initiatives that we are pushing for that will lead to more European coordination,” Theoharis said, referring to the EU Digital COVID Certificate which is based on an idea tabled by Greece and which has been agreed upon by EU member states.
However, the Greek minister added that there is still a lack of coordination for tourism to restart as a whole.
“We are aiming to jolt everyone into coordinating, cooperating and ensuring that we have the right tools for all of us to be able to open… The only way to benefit is if tourism restarts as a whole and that is the only way for a single country to benefit as well,” he said.
Coordination is a must, says UNWTO
On his part, UNWTO Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili also referred to the need of coordination, highlighting that the establishment of travel corridors, not only with the United States but also between EU countries, is a difficult process.
“From the very beginning we saw that there are different corridors between countries inside the European continent and for big markets like Russia, China, the US and the UK,” Pololikashvili stressed, underlining that coordination needs more leadership and more harmonized protocols, which are not easy to create as many ministries (health, foreign affairs, interior) all must agree on a common line, a process which has become quite difficult.
“We are looking to speed up the process but unfortunately because of procedures and different opinions from the medical side everything changes every day,” he added and called for the creation of common rules.
“We are doing our best to coordinate, create common rules, make accessibility and make travel easier and not to cause ‘headaches’ on travelers because today it has become very difficult to plan trips… We are working very hard but it’s a challenge,” the UNWTO’s secretary general said.
Quarantine is the past. It’s time to look forward.
Referring to mandatory quarantine of travelers after their arrival in a country, Pololikashvili stressed that the rule will make people think twice about traveling.
“If I’m vaccinated and have a negative PCR test, why should I be quarantined for two weeks? This makes no sense in my point of view… Quarantine is the past and we have to look forward. I’m sure that in time, with the vaccination process everything will be settled,” he said, also touching on the rule that demands for travelers to present a negative PCR test conducted up to 72 hours before traveling.
“Now is the time to increase the period of PCR tests. Why is it 72 hours and not 112 or 81? … All this is a matter of risk management,” Pololikashvili said.
Moreover, the UNWTO’s secretary general referred to the establishment of the EU Digital COVID Certificate, which he said is not a “must” for traveling but an additional tool that will facilitate travel.
“We have to give the right message to everyone: if you don’t have a certificate it doesn’t mean that you can’t travel,” he said.
“The certificate plus the vaccination process will speed up recovery and restart tourism again… Greece has a very important role. It is not a coincidence that we are here having our very important meeting in Athens,” Pololikashvili said.
An event of global interest, the two-day meeting in Athens is of major importance as UNWTO Member States of the Region of Europe have come together to discuss the current situation of the tourism sector in light of the unprecedented global health emergency created by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The restart of European tourism starts in Athens, where our meeting is taking place with the participation of a total of 16 ministers from Europe, a record number that shows the need to provide immediate solutions for the global tourism industry to resume,” the UNWTO’s secretary general said.
The UNWTO’s 66th CEU Meeting will wrap up in Athens on Friday following a conference focused on cruise tourism.