The European tourism sector has been particularly badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a recent report, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNTWO) states that 2020 was the worst year on record for global tourism with 74% less international arrivals. According to the same report, European tourism is estimated not to return to pre-pandemic 2019 levels before 2023. And even if numbers increase this quickly again, many of the 22.6 million Europeans working in relation to tourism will face economic difficulties for years.
With the NextGenerationEU recovery package, the European Commission, the European Parliament and EU leaders have proposed a legal instrument designed to address the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. A total amount of €750 billion will be allocated to Member States to support long-term economic recovery with the twin strategic objectives: digitalisation and sustainability. This presents an unprecedented opportunity for the European Union to address its social, environmental and economic challenges.
ECF and CIE’s autumn call for cycling investments
As data from various countries show, the challenges of the pandemic conversely have given cycling and cycle tourism a significant boost. Many put the humble bicycle at the centre of their holiday planning. To build on this momentum and to further increase the numbers of travellers choosing this sustainable, healthy and accessible type of travelling, the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF) started the #RestartCyclingTourism campaign in summer 2020.
To coincide with the ECF’s Mayors’ debate with the Commission Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans on 30 October 2020, ECF and Cycling Industries Europe (CIE) jointly called for 10 billion Euro in cycle investments to be allocated in the National Recovery and Resilience Plans (NRRP), the largest single fund under the NextGenerationEU programme. The types of measures that were recommended for this investment included long-distance regional and national cycle route networks and support for cycling tourism.
EU Tourism Manifesto
The European Tourism Manifesto, an alliance of more than 60 European public and private organisations covering the whole tourism sector, which includes the ECF, have now called on Member States to make tourism a strategic element in their national recovery plans, the basis on which the countries receive funding under the NextGenerationEU programme.
The alliance recently published a paper to accelerate the recovery by investing in sustainable tourism including an extensive list of investment ideas to “enable travel and tourism to generate jobs and growth and support green and digital transitions”. Improving the infrastructure for sustainable and active travel is one of the main points mentioned by the alliance. This includes investment in cycle infrastructure but also the support of multi-modal transport solutions combining the strengths of the bicycle in combination with trains, boats and buses. The EuroVelo network is explicitly referred to as one example for safe, direct and connected infrastructure that can in combination with user-friendly services addressing the needs of travellers and with other cycle-friendly modes of transportation be developed into an overall sustainable transport system. To monitor the benefits of these investments, counters along cycle routes are suggested. Based on the data gathered by such counters, more elaborate tourism promotion plans can be developed. Additionally to the list of concrete investment ideas, the alliance is willing to support Member States in drafting their recovery and resilience plans to ensure that the sector helps national economies to meet the funding objectives.
Call to action for NextGenerationEU funding
By 30 April 2021 Member States and the European Commission need to agree on the final versions of their respective National Recovery and Resilience Plans. So, time for national governments to propose investment opportunities is running short.
Therefore, in addition to the combined efforts of the European Tourism Manifesto alliance, ECF calls for public organisations, NGOs and other relevant stakeholders to contact your national authorities to make sure that cycling is prominently represented in your national plan!