Chancellor Angela Merkel warns against traveling, Denmark no longer allows German holidaymakers to enter the country and the number of infections is increasing throughout Europe. Difficult times for the tourism industry and for the person responsible for tourism in the federal government. Thomas Bareiß (45) is a Commissioner for Tourism and Secretary of State at the Federal Ministry of Economics. We asked the CDU politician: What will happen to the holiday?
Concerns about the future of hotels, restaurants and travel agencies: Thomas Bareiß, Tourism Officer … Photo: picture alliance / AA
Mr Bareis, people are told not to travel, not to increase the number of coronary infections even higher. Are tourists really that dangerous?
Of course, we are very concerned about current developments. However, the whole tourism industry should not be stigmatized. We have learned a lot in the last few months and we know that we will not get anywhere with comprehensive measures. We want to take a deliberately differentiated, evidence-based approach so that safe travel is still possible. What is certain is that one must avoid holidays in high-risk areas.
However, differentiation means that few people see it. In addition, the situation often changes very quickly. General travel warnings could be more beneficial for citizens, right?
General travel warnings do not inspire trust among people. Measures and travel warnings must remain observable. That’s why I don’t believe in leaning everything together. We should try to avoid a complete blockade of tourism. To do this, we need credible, trust-building and understandable measures. That is the only way to get approval.
Accommodation bans are probably not one of them.
No, that was a mistake. Accommodation bans did not help. On the contrary: you have caused damage. State governments ordered it without talking to those directly concerned – hoteliers. In the last few months, hotels have invested an incredible amount in hygiene concepts and then their guests have been taken away.
Although accommodation bans have been lifted almost everywhere, there are hotels that now require negative corona tests of their own free will. As?
In my opinion, this speaks of a high level of responsibility on the ground. Companies want to create security and ensure that they have no cases of infection. That is understandable. We can set the framework at the federal and state level, but I think in a pandemic you have to leave the final decision to local entrepreneurs so that they can react quickly to current developments.
Vacationers have to stay outside: Denmark currently does not want German tourists. Photo: dpa
Denmark blocked German vacationers practically overnight. How should people plan a vacation during such campaigns?
Yes, even such an event worries me. Within the EU, we have decided that we want to avoid closing borders as much as possible. We had it at the beginning of the pandemic, but it should remain a one-time event. Freedom of movement and travel are a great success in the European Union.
Almost all European countries are areas at risk of the corona, this also applies to Germany. Do we have to give up travel indefinitely?
You don’t know how the pandemic will develop. We go step by step. It was clear that the number of cases would increase in autumn and winter. That’s how it turned out. We are now trying to keep the numbers as low as possible to avoid overuse of the health system. The virus does not disappear overnight. We need medicine and vaccinations and we are working hard on it. I hope to see the light at the end of the tunnel at the beginning of next year or in the spring of next year. But one thing is clear: the industry has been hit hard. And politics and society have a longer responsibility to help.
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The federal government has already released 50 billion euros. There is still some money left. How is it not needed so big or is the program useless?
It is good when there are still reserves. However, there are industries that were hit early by the pandemic and that will suffer even longer. We are therefore working to expand support and hope to support other ministries. In principle, we want to stick to funding that is independent of the sector. However, we also need special programs to help the restorer, hotelier, organizer or showman and cover his costs. We have already decided to provide specific support for outdoor dining. Restaurants may offer more seats outside than before. The virus does not spread as much in the fresh air.
Holidays in Germany: A lot of people did it this summer. But then came the bans on accommodation. Photo: imago images / Christian Ohde
They also want to pay for patio heaters. Does climate protection have to subside at the time of the corona?
Even the Federal Environment Agency can make friends with patio heaters. And most environmental associations have no objections. We must now do everything in our power to ensure livelihoods and jobs while minimizing the risk of infection.
Travel associations and hotel and restaurant associations have long warned of a wave of bankruptcies. They have not existed yet. Is it still coming?
There are companies that have not sold any sales for months. That is why it is good for politicians to make a clear commitment to this sector. We want to prevent the structures that have been successful so far from being destroyed by the Corona crisis. We help grants to companies that were healthy before Corona. It should remain so even if the amounts increase. Companies now need liquidity and help to get started after the crisis.
The State took over the stake in Lufthansa. What about Tui?
We help young and old. Industry must remain efficient. This applies to Tui, but also to other large travel companies. Tui has already taken out loans. Tui must decide whether the state should get involved. If he submits a corresponding application, it will be checked.
In the future, vacationers should be better protected from the bankruptcy of a travel agency. When will the new law enter into force?
We work full time, also with other departments. We agree that we need a new basis for protection against insolvency. But we are still voting.
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What are the problems?
It is important for me to find balanced regulation that will guarantee a high level of consumer protection, but at the same time there will be no disproportionate price increases for tours. Customers also want attractive deals in terms of prices. The reform must also take into account that there are different shapes and sizes of organizers. At present, there is still a need for discussion.
Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn would like to enshrine in the Infection Protection Act that passengers returning from high-risk areas abroad do not receive wages if they have to be quarantined. Do you think so?
If someone takes the inevitable trip to a designated risk area, I think it is right that they are responsible for the consequences. The state cannot cover everything. I very much sympathize with this proposal.
Where it all began: The Corona virus began its journey through Europe from the Ischgl winter sports center. Photo: REUTERS
Ischgl was the trigger for the Corona epidemic in Europe at the beginning of the year. Considering what a ski vacation this winter?
A few weeks ago, I had an intense discussion with colleagues from Switzerland, Austria and northern Italy about what a ski holiday might look like. The rules of the game are well known: keep your distance, observe hygienic measures, wear masks. But a lot depends on how it is implemented on site. How’s the queue at the elevator, how many people are allowed in the gondola? Each place must have its own interest, so that it is not connected with Corona and so that people go there healthy and leave again.
Are you a skier?
Yes, I like skiing. I hope that despite the growing number of infections, it will be possible this winter as well. But one thing is clear, safety comes first. Now we must first get the growing numbers under control.