Little to not at all did it surprise me when Germany’s government prolonged its travel warning for almost the entire world (160 countries) except EU-States or those that are associated with the Schengen agreement plus Great Britain. This included other major European countries expected to follow suit within the next few weeks.
True, travel warnings are not in practice travel bans,however,they do not usually prevent business-related trips. They do, however, make tourism virtually impossible for commercial reasons.
The number of people who won’t be scared off by the mere mentioning of “warning” will simply not suffice to support feasible group and package tourism, which is by far the largest segment in the business and higher insurance premiums will make it highly expensive as well. It will also put offholiday-makers who might be taken into compulsory quarantine when coming home, as there has been a “warning”.
At first glimpse, the reasons cited for that decision appear to be somehow convincing. Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was basically justifying the decision with the minimum compliance of other health systems with European standards, inaccurate reporting of infection numbers in some countries and a high number of COVID-19 cases in others. Adding to this, he also mentioned that effective inner-European logistics would make it easier to bring back citizens should another massive outbreak, a second wave, suddenly occur.
All this certainly makes absolute sense, but it doesn’t answer questions like why a person living in Germany – or any EU country for that matter – shouldn’t be travelling to countries with much lower infection figures like Japan, South Korea and the Cayman Islands, and who have also been extensively conducting PCR-Tests. The Cayman Islands in fact is ranked among the top 5 countries worldwide when it comes to the number of PCR-Tests done in relation to the total population, much higher than Germany itself indeed.
Countries that do have a first class healthcare system alsohave an infrastructure that would make logistics to get people home just as easy as them beingonly a couple of hundred kilometres away. Compared to European states like Italy, Spain, France, the Netherlands and the UK, these destinations are completely safe. That is not to talk about Australia and New Zealand who are by now reporting zero new infections.
France’s infections per 1 million of the population, for instance, are 17.4 times higher than that of Japan, those of Australia 9.9 times higher than in the Netherlands and so on. Still, the EU citizen is advised not to put foot there.
So, as idyllic as slogans like protecting their own citizens might sound, they only reflect part of the truth.
The economic side seems to be the crucial factor here with tourism revenues from international travel accounting for quite considerable portions of GDP in let’s say France (2.9% or approximately €2.32bn), Spain (8% or €98.5bn) and Italy (17.6% or €36.7bn).
Europeans in 2017 for example – and numbers have risen significantly since then – have spent a staggering €467bn on travel in total and €102.7 of those on trips to countries outside the European Union, only 21.5% less than inside of it (€158.8bn), with the rest being respective domestic tourism.
Germans, alone, last year spent what amounts to 26% of the European total expenditure on tourism, with 15 of 25 of their favorite destinations being outside of Europe,such asNorth America, the Caribbean and Australia, to name just a few.
All thisreflects tremendous amounts of money that many Europeans are now very keen on keeping within their country’s borders, or at least not letting it flow outside the old continent.
Many will look at this as being an appropriate pragmatic policy in times of crisis; others will tend to describe it as outright racist.
This is a debate that could certainly go on forever, and where it obviously is extremely difficult to reach definitive conclusions, especially given the very unexpected and extraordinary nature of the crisis as well as its volume and magnitude.
Yes, what the Europeans are doing here is in its very essence a discriminatory act by default. Then again, one might argue, why did the Europeans establish their union if not to pull together and help each other out in situations such as that we are currently experiencing? Was that not the purpose of it all? And why not stay courteous to the Brits one more time, and include them in this one as well, or countries that have at least committed to the Schengen agreement?
This is simply how politics is made, and contemporary European economic structures have become so complex and interwoven that this is probably the only way to go.
More than in most industries, tourism in particular will hence experience grave shifts in at least the next decade to come. It is after all not that easy to move an entire industrial complex like Silicon Valley into another country or even from America’s west to its east coast, but substituting the beaches of Egypt’s Red Sea with those of Malaga, Nice or Sicily should not be such a big deal after all.
Mohamed Shirin El Hawary: Political Economist