As the summer season approaches, countries across Europe are lifting restrictions and preparing to welcome tourists in a socially distanced manner. Yet the travel industry, a key pillar of many European countries’ economies, is faced with a tough dilemma: how to save the summer season while avoiding the risk of a second wave of coronavirus.
At the end of May, Redfield and Wilton Strategies conducted a poll to gauge public attitudes in Germany, Italy, and France towards travelling during the summer holidays. We found that even if certain measures are in place, such as testing, contact tracing, and the use of masks, the majority of respondents in Germany (67%) and France (58%) and the plurality in Italy (43%) consider it unsafe for tourists from northern Europe to go on holiday to southern Europe in July. Nevertheless, significant minorities of respondents (20% of Germans, 33% of Italians and 25% of the French) do think it will be safe to travel in July.
This slight variation, with roughly one in three (33%) respondents in Italy arguing that travel to southern Europe would be safe may reflect our finding that 51% of Italians are more concerned about the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the economy than on public health.
Italy, whose economy relies heavily on tourism, has been looking for alternatives to international tourists to support its economy. For example, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has encouraged Italians to travel domestically this summer, which represents a change of plans for many Italians. Prior to the pandemic, 72% of Italian respondents were planning on travelling this summer, but only 38% of them domestically.
Two months later, that 72% of Italian respondents who were planning to travel this summer have largely changed their plans. Within that group, 44% now plan to travel domestically and 45% have cancelled their plans altogether. Only 11% of this group now plan on traveling abroad, compared to 47% before the pandemic. Similarly, of the 64% of respondents in France who were planning on travelling before the pandemic, 45% now plan to travel domestically, which amounts to 29% of the overall sample of French respondents.
Setting aside whether respondents are now planning to travel internationally or domestically, we found that many respondents who intended to travel this summer prior to the pandemic have surprisingly not changed their minds since the outbreak began. In Germany, for instance, 57% of respondents who had plans to travel before the pandemic are still planning to do so. This figure amounts to 36% of the entire sample. While 43% of German respondents were planning on initially planning on traveling abroad, the 17% of all respondents that are still planning on traveling abroad this summer is nevertheless a significant number. It is far more than 0%!
Among those who decided to cancel their summer travel plans, safety was cited as the most important reason not to travelby respondents in Germany (77%), Italy (70%) and France (75%).
Among those who consider it to be unsafe to travel between countries despite the implementation of protective measures, a majority of respondents in Germany (61%) and France (56%) and a plurality in Italy (45%) believe that they would be more at risk of contracting the virus at their destination.
Restoring trust in the destination countries thus appears to be a prerequisite to reviving tourism across Europe. Greece, for instance, a popular holiday destination who just came out of a decade-long recession before the coronavirus crisis hit the continent, announced that it will be carrying out random tests to prevent the emergence of a second wave.
Yet, of those who intend to travel this summer, only 8% of German and 14% of French respondents stated that they would travel to Greece. By contrast, one would imagine that southern European countries who were the most severely hit by the coronavirus crisis such as Spain or Italy would see a decline in tourism. Nevertheless, Spain remains the top destination for both Italian (34%) and French (35%) respondents who plan to travel abroad this summer.
This result may appear surprising, as Italians were also more prone to hold the view that Spain has handled the crisis worse than Italy (42%).
The summer holidays may sound like a trivial concern, especially when one thinks of the number of lives the coronavirus crisis has claimed. Yet, as countries are beginning to reopen, the health of the economy is becoming almost as vital as public health in the eyes of many. This is particularly the case in countries whose economies are highly reliant on tourism, especially in southern Europe. However, as our findings highlight, a majority of German, Italian and French respondents still consider travelling abroad in July unsafe, and many have changed their plans accordingly. It appears that this will be a summer of domestic holidays in the best of cases, or of no holidays at all in the worst of cases.