A tourist visits the archaeological site of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, as it reopens to the public after much of the country became a “yellow zone”, loosening coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, in Pompeii, Italy, April 27, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

Many holiday and tourist destinations across Europe are putting revival plans in place in an attempt to boost the continent’s travel and tourism sector, which has been severely impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council’s annual Economic Impact Report, the sector suffered a massive loss of almost $4.5 trillion in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Spain, a popular tourism destination and the world’s second-most visited country, has been feeling the effects of the crisis.

The country’s National Statistics Institute said international tourism to Spain plunged 80 percent to 19 million visitors last year, the lowest level since 1969, as novel coronavirus restrictions took hold to curb the virus.

A total of 284,311 foreign tourists visited Spain in February, down 34.6 percent from January, and international tourism revenue fell 93.3 percent year-on-year in February.

Meanwhile, the World Travel and Tourism Council is hoping that by June, if international mobility and travel resumes, there will be a significant boost to global and country-level GDP as well as jobs.

According to the global tourism body’s research, the sector’s contribution to global GDP could rise sharply this year, up 48.5 percent year-on-year. The research also shows that its contribution could almost reach the same levels as 2019 by next year, with a further year-on-year rise of 25.3 percent.

As the pandemic shows initial signs of easing, some European countries have relaxed their restrictions, giving some hope to traditional tourist destinations that recovery could be something that is not very far away.

In the Basque Country, an autonomous region of Spain, plans are well underway to attract local and international tourists back to the region.

Koldo Atxutegi, general director of attractions and foreign direct investment for the Biscay provincial government, is hoping that the region’s major events will help bring back visitors when travel restrictions ease, including 50 Next, which celebrates 50 people aged 35 and under from across the food and drink sector, and the Sustainable Development Goals Entrepreneurship Summit.

Bilbao, the capital of Biscay province in Spain’s Basque Country, will also be hosting the start of the Tour de France cycling race in 2023,which Atxutegi said will put the region in the spotlight.

He hopes global vaccination plans will also contribute to tourists returning soon and said plans are in place to put Biscay on the global map to attract visitors.

“We want to put in place these global events, such as 50 Next in gastronomy. We will have talent connectivity and innovation,” he said. “Our strategy is to attract people, companies, talent and entrepreneurship, and also develop an ecosystem of energy, mobility and food technology.”

The World Travel and Tourism Council also predicts that if the global vaccine rollout continues at the current pace and travel restrictions are relaxed just before the summer season, then the 62 million jobs lost in 2020 could return by 2022.

Joxe Mari Aizega, head of the Basque Culinary Center, is confident that visitors will return to the region by the summer, with many restaurants and hospitality venues putting in place COVID safety rules, such as social distancing and better ventilation systems.

“They are working very consciously implementing measures and I think the consumers are feeling safe at the restaurants,” he said.

He pointed out that bigger and popular destinations might suffer more because visitors will be worried about crowds and a lack of social distancing measures.

“Tourists coming to the Basque Country are here for other activities such as gastronomy, so I’m quite optimistic things will pick back up,” Aizega said.

“We’ve seen in the last few years how gastronomy has had a big influence on tourist destinations. We are a culinary nation, so I think the Basque Country has a lot to offer. We might need some time to let travel come back again with restrictions or perhaps vaccine passports, but this year the sector will come back.”

While some in the industry remain optimistic about the year ahead, the World Tourism Organization adopted a more cautious tone.

The United Nations agency said 43 percent of travel experts do not see a return to pre-pandemic levels in the tourism sector before 2023.

The organization forecast that it could take two-and-a-half to four years for international tourism to return to 2019 levels.