As one of the most iconic tourist hotspots in Brussels, Hotel Metropole has been welcoming guests from around the world since 1895.
But after months of lockdown, the hotel is on the verge of closing down, with the loss of 129 jobs.
For Rodolphe Van Weyenbergh, the general secretary of the Brussels Hotel Association, this could be an omen for what is to come for the rest of the tourism sector.
“Today, we have to find a way to rescue the tourist industry, the hotel industry, at every level – European, national but also regional level,” he said. “The first measure and the most urgent is reinjecting liquidity into the treasuries, loans are not the answer.”
The coronavirus pandemic is likely to have a huge impact on tourism across Europe, to which it contributes 10% of GDP, accounts for 27 million direct and indirect jobs and is made up of almost three million businesses, most of them small companies.
At world level, the estimated loss of revenue is expected to be between 275-400 billion euros, said Sonya Gospodinova, an EU Commission spokesperson.
“For Europe restaurants and hotels would lose 50% of their revenues. The most impacted are the airlines and cruise operators 90% and 70% of loss for tour operations and other travel agencies.”
In 2020 alone, tourist traffic will be down 20-30% according to the World Tourism Organization.
The European Commission is calling for a “new Marshall Plan”, using money from the EU budget to save the tourist industry. Tourism will be also one of the first beneficiaries of the Recovery Fund.
But nobody can yet predict the real result of the crisis, which depends on the duration and a possible second wave of infections.
“The best scenario is going to be if politicians relax the rules [and] make sure that the people who are at risk isolate,” says Tom Jenkins, the CEO of the European Tourism Association (ETOA).
“But they have a managed return to normality, but that normality has to be normal. It can’t be a modified form of normality. The worst situation is for the current situation to continue or to be relaxed partially and then we reintroduced because of another peak of coronavirus.”
A special summit on tourism is pencilled for later this year, but with the summer months approaching fast, EU countries like Greece, Spain and Malta will be hoping for more short-term measures to ensure they can make back some of their losses.