COVID-19: World’s biggest tourism group ‘reinvents’ holidays as it gears up to restart travel

LONDON: No more feasting from the hotel buffet, showing off your tan under the disco lights or impromptu dips in the swimming pool – holidaying during the coronavirus pandemic will be a more sanitised affair.

Across Europe, COVID-19 has grounded aircraft and shut hotels, and with travel restrictions still in place, British government ministers have warned UK holidaymakers not to expect to be able to make trips abroad this summer.

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But Germany-headquartered TUI, the world's biggest tourism group with 27 million customers last year, said holidays would still be possible. It is gearing up for a July restart with new safety measures which amounted to a "reinvention of the holiday".

As part of the hygiene ramp-up, TUI said holidaymakers will no longer be able to pile their plates full of food from the buffet as it was scrapping self-service restaurants, night clubs and saunas.

Holidaymakers will be expected to keep to social distancing of between 1.5 to 2 metres, meaning fewer tables in the restaurant and group sports such as football will be replaced by others such as tennis.

Customers will begin their holidays with temperature checks at airports, face masks on board less crowded flights, and more transfer buses.

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At TUI hotels, of which there are 411, there will be more deep cleaning and hand-santiser points.

Test runs of the new measures had already taken place in its hotels in Mallorca, Spain, TUI boss Fritz Joussen said, giving him confidence that they can work.

Some TUI hotels based in Germany will become the first to reopen in the coming days.

Holidays to Europe's more traditional beach destinations will come back in the coming months, Joussen said, adding that TUI was in talks with governments over restarting its activities.

"The main candidates are the Balearics, the Canaries, Greece Cyprus, but also Croatia and Bulgaria," he said.

"Areas, where actually, the infections are low and areas where tourism can be saved and areas where tourism is a very important driver of economic prosperity."

On its cruise ships, one of the fastest growing parts of TUI's business, customers will have to fill in health questionnaires and be screened before boarding.

Frequently touched surfaces will be cleaned every 30 minutes and there will also be COVID-19 testing devices onboard, but no self-service restaurants that cruise ships are famed for and strict limits on numbers allowed in theatres, spas and gyms.

Ships will be welcoming guests "as soon as possible", Joussen told reporters. TUI would start offering cruises of three to five days on the North Sea departing from north German ports. Guest numbers would be restricted to 1,000 people at first, on ships which can hold as many as 2,900.

"The North Sea is always a very popular cruise destination in the summer," Joussen said.

The European Commission also outlined sweeping measures on Wednesday aimed at reviving the struggling tourism and airline industries brought to a halt by the coronavirus.

Tourism accounts for almost 10 per cent of the EU's GDP, with some 267 million Europeans, or two thirds of the population, making at least one trip per year, it said.

The guidelines were similar to some of those proposed by TUI – hotels and other companies in hospitality should set a maximum number of guests allowed in communal areas, arrange a booking system for meal times and pool visits and consider keeping special facilities, including childcare facilities, closed.

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