EU tourism ministers have pledged to seek a "harmonised solution" to the refund crisis affecting travel and tourism businesses.
Last month, the European Commission temporarily relaxed its guidance on the EU Package Travel Directive (PTD) to give the European travel and tourism sector breathing space on the requirement to provide refunds within 14 days for package travel arrangements impacted by the coronavirus crisis.
However, the UK government is yet to amend its interpretation of the PTD, the Package Travel Regulations (PTRs), to formally recognise refund credit notes (RCNs) and guarantee they will carry the same level of financial protection as the original booking.
EU tourism ministers held a video conference on Monday (27 April) to discuss best practices and identify ways to "enhance support" for the EU tourism sector, which they agreed had been "badly hit" by the Covid-19 crisis.
Relief will, in part, come from a newly established EU "recovery fund", which has been set up to assist the sectors "hardest hit" by the coronavirus pandemic, such as the union’s travel and tourism industry.
"The tourism sector has experienced an immense and unexpected decline in demand due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic," said chair Gary Cappelli, Croatia’s minister of tourism.
"Tourism represents 10% of the EU’s GDP and provides jobs for almost 12% of employees in the European Union. In addition, tourism is the fourth export category of the union, with consumption generating more than €400 billion in revenue.
"For all these reasons, it is important to encourage the creation of joint solutions to the crisis of the tourism sector caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but also to create programmes and plans for combating similar threats in the future.
"Last week, it was agreed to establish a Recovery Fund, which will target the hardest hit sectors and geographical parts of Europe. I believe we are all aware tourism definitely falls into the category of the most affected sectors in this crisis."
On refunds, ministers discussed the prospect of a "harmonised solution" for refunding travel packages, "including vouchers"; a legal framework for tour operators that would seek a "common EU approach" providing temporary flexibility and liquidity while ensuring a "fair balance of interests between tour operators and consumers".
Additionally, ministers debated "reopening tourist corridors" between EU members states and bringing in epidemiologists to advise on aspects of the process such as defining measures to ensure the safety of tourists.
"There seems to be enough goodwill and a desire to find a way to reconnect countries," the ministers agreed in a joint statement.
Thierry Breton, European commissioner for the internal market, added: "We will need unprecedented funds to overcome this crisis. There is a need for a ‘new Marshall Plan’, with a powerful EU budget, to jump start the path towards European recovery and a stronger and more resilient union.
"We will need fast action, pragmatism and creativity to recover and build a resilient and sustainable tourism industry. But above all, this crisis calls for solidarity – no country can overcome this crisis alone."