Roam close to home: Europe's tourists play safe in pandemic

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(c) dpa-Zentralbild

Tourists with backpacks and suitcases arrives at the port of Kloster on the Baltic island Hiddensee in Vitte, Germany, Monday May 25, 2020. In German state Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, after the travel ban due to the coronavirus protection measures, holidaymakers from other federal states are now allowed to travel to the island. ( Jens Buettner/dpa via AP)

BERLIN – Many a journey to far-flung corners of Europe starts in a dusty industrial yard in east Berlin, where Felix Rascher carefully tends to his small fleet of Volkswagen camper vans, a favorite among free-spirited travelers the world over.

But this spring, the pandemic threw a wrench in the works of the travel industry, as countries closed their borders and residents hunkered down to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Hotels, airlines, travel agents, tour operators, restaurants, local guides and car rentals saw income evaporate as lockdowns came into force.

“Our business normally begins in mid-March,” Rascher, 37, said. “The Easter rentals collapsed completely, of course.”

According to Thierry Breton, the European Union's internal market commissioner, some 27 million jobs across the EU are directly or indirectly linked to tourism, accounting for 12% of employment.

About 3 million businesses, most of them small companies like Rascher's, benefit from Europe's normally wide-open borders, helping make the continent the world's top tourism destination with half of all global arrivals.

The dearth of tourists is particularly painful for some of the countries whose citizens and health care systems have suffered the most during the pandemic.

Spain, which gets 12% of its GDP from tourism, recorded no hotel occupancies in April. Normally crowded travel hot spots such as Rome, Paris, Venice and Barcelona have at times appeared deserted in recent months.