Claims such as “carbon neutral,” “environmentally friendly,” and “eco” will require companies to verify their products’ merits through third-party certification schemes.
Travel companies are among the industries that may be affected by the looming ban. For example, airlines may need to change booking interfaces that offer “climate-neutral” flights in exchange for buying carbon offsets supporting projects that lack credibility.
The rules okayed on Wednesday still need formal approval from the European Union parliament and its member states — expected in November. But it would be procedurally rare for the rules to be denied.
The move came on the same day United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said “humanity has opened the gates to hell” in its failure to stop rising carbon emissions and a forecasted increase in extreme weather.
In the first half of 2023, Europe experienced its highest number of tourist stays in the past decade, according to Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics agency. Europe recorded 1.19 billion night stays between January and June 2023, up by 0.9% and 12.9% from the same period in 2019 and 2022, respectively.
International tourism gave Europe a strong boost in the first half of 2023, according to Eurostat. International tourist night stays rose 22.5% from last year to 545 million. Domestic tourist night stays rose 5.8%.
All EU states experienced overnight stay increases compared to 2022, with the exception of Hungary, which experienced a slight decrease of 0.3% The countries that saw the biggest growth were Cyprus at 39.3%, Malta at 30.5% and Slovakia at 28.7%.
Compared to their 2019 levels, about half of EU member states have not fully recovered, according to Eurostat. Latvia was down the most at 23.8%, Slovakia at 16%, Hungry at 12.2% and Lithuania at 11.7%.
Google made changes to Google Flights and Hotels related to transparency in hotel reviews and pricing under pressure from the European Commission — but stopped short of making those modifications elsewhere in the world.
At the behest of the European Commission, Google added text in hotel reviews in European Union countries, noting “Reviews aren’t verified.”
Unlike online travel agencies, Google doesn’t take bookings so it would be hard-pressed to verify user reviews. Tripadvisor, likewise, doesn’t verify hotel reviews for the same reason.
Clicking further into Google’s explanatory language about user reviews in Europe, Google states that it accepts reviews from signed-in users — there’s no requirement that they ever stayed at that particular hotel — and licenses reviews from third-parties. “Google doesn’t do any additional filtering for spam or inappropriate language beyond that done by the provider, nor do we verify these reviews,” Google states.
The European Commission stated that Google accepted this disclosure about hotel reviews and additional transparency commitments that other hotel-booking platforms such as Expedia Group and Booking.com agreed to on pricing and availability.
“The commitments made by Google are a step forward in this direction. We call on Google to comply fully with the Geo-blocking Regulation, ensuring that consumers can enjoy the same rights and access the same content, wherever they are in the EU,” European Commission Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders in the announcement statement.
Google agreed to these changes about user reviews, consented to disclose that Google Flights and Google Hotels is merely a middleman, and agreed to provide greater clarity when presenting discounted pricing, explaining that such deals are merely a reference point. But Google decided to make these changes in Europe only — and not in other geographies around the world where regulators were not providing heat.
“As part of our ongoing dialogue with the European Commission and the EU’s Consumer Protection Cooperation Network, we have made changes to our products that provide a clear benefit and protect consumers,” a Google spokesperson stated. “We appreciate the partnership on this topic and are open to constructive dialogue with all consumer associations and regulators.”
Google’s hotel reviews in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world have no added language explaining the reviews are not verified. So travelers might erroneously believe that everyone writing reviews about these hotels actually stayed a night or two there.
Google frequently talks about helping travelers and other consumers to discover information as being one of its top priorities. However, the search engine giant, perhaps in the interests of providing a cleaner user interface that wouldn’t get in the way of users clicking on hotel ads, sacrificed transparency for expediency in the rest of the world.
Google is not alone in doing what regulators demand in one geography, but not expanding it to other regions for the good of consumers. For example, for several years Airbnb has shown the total price of stays, including taxes, up-front in the European Union at the urging of the European Commission. However, it was only this year that Airbnb became displaying the total rate, albeit without taxes included, instead of just the nightly rate without fees at first glance, in other geographies.
Just when travelers thought that travel disruptions seen earlier this year may be easing, in May 2023 the European Union plans to introduce new fingerprint and biometric checks at external borders for third-country nationals that could lead to significantly longer wait times.
Just in time for the the peak summer travel season in 2023, the European Union’s new Entry-Exit System could add up to two minutes per individual for border processing if things go smoothly, according to some estimates, and there could be additional delays if further action is warranted
Various European countries, and the UK said delays could increase two-fold, four-fold, and even seven-fold, as detailed in a story from the Independent.
The UK, which left the European Union on January 31, 2020 under its Brexit policy, will see its citizens face these elongated border checks at the port of Dover, Kent’s Eurotunnel terminal, and at a Eurostar rail hub, St. Pancras International, in London.
The Independent cited port of Dover CEO Doug Bannister estimating last month that UK motorists heading for Europe could see processing times expand by seven.
The European Union said it is making these move to enhance security in entries and exits by third-country nationals.
Contrary to estimates from Poland, Croatia, Finland, and the UK, The European Union said the new system would be hassle free, and end up saving travelers time.
The European Union and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have signed a new open skies agreement aimed at recovering and expanding airline links between the two regions.
The agreement is unique as it covers two blocs of countries — the EU has 27 members and ASEAN 10 — rather than two countries or between the EU and, for example, the U.S. The agreement, unveiled Monday, will drop all restrictions on flights between the EU and ASEAN for airlines based in either region. It goes into effect immediately.
“It will support the aviation sector’s recovery after COVID-19 and restore much-needed connectivity,” EU Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean said. She added that the agreement provides a “platform” for the EU and ASEAN to collaborate on “economically, socially and environmentally sustainable aviation.”
Airlines based in ASEAN, which includes Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand, are currently the largest in the market. Singapore Airlines and and Thai Airways flew the most passenger capacity between the blocs this year, according to scheduled data from Diio by Cirium. KLM and Lufthansa are third and fourth, respectively.
The agreement also appears to be a way for the EU to offer its own airlines a leg up in competition with the Gulf carriers, which include Emirates and Qatar Airways that carry large numbers of connecting passengers between the two regions. The bloc described the pact as helping “EU and ASEAN airlines to compete with competitors targeting the lucrative EU-ASEAN market.”
Airline capacity between the EU and ASEAN will be down 28 percent compared to 2019 in the fourth quarter, Diio data show.
Amsterdam-based Booking.com said it had to rescind several job offers made to Iranians living in Iran because of complexities in the international hiring and relocation process of would-be employees living in that country.
A Booking Holdings spokesperson responded to a Skift inquiry on the subject after Maede Rajabi posted on LinkedIn that “Booking.com rescinded my signed contract one day before my flight to Amsterdam and 5 days before my start date. It happened on September 9, 2022. Same scenario happened to other people from my country, Iran.”
Rajabi introduced the post as “a short story about racism in Booking.com.”
The Booking.com spokesperson said the online booking company “employs many Iranian nationals.”
But hiring Iranians currently living in Iran apparently ran afoul of certain regulations or possibly sanctions against Iran, although the company didn’t cite specifics.
The spokesperson said “mobility vendors [were] unable to effect the necessary part of the hiring and relocation process.”
Booking.com stated that the issue had nothing to do with discrimination, and it is looking into ways to assist Iranians who were subject to the rescinded job offers.
Saudi Arabia is making it easier for millions of tourists to enter the Kingdom by streamlining and relaxing its visa options for residents from multiple countries, effective September 1.
Residents from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates —the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries— can now apply for electronic tourist visas (eVisas), according to the Ministry of Tourism of Saudi Arabia.
Residents of the UK, US, and EU can now apply for a visa on arrival. In addition, holders of a valid tourist or business visa to the UK, U.S. or the Schengen area countries will be able to apply for a visa on arrival, provided that the other visa has been used at least once to enter the issuing country.
“Through harnessing digital innovation and streamlining the traveller journey, Saudi Arabia is welcoming more and more visitors from all corners of the globe,” said Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al Khateeb.
The new visa rules is another step the Kingdom is taking toward achieving its ambitious goal of becoming a top global leisure destination. The Saudi government intends to invest $1 trillion in the tourism sector over the next 10 years.
“The facilitation of a tourist visa for millions of GCC residents and the visa on arrival extension supports our ambition to welcome 100 million visitors a year by 2030, to the world’s biggest new leisure tourism destination,” said Saudi Tourism Authority CEO Fahd Hamidaddin.
The European Union’s travel and tourism sector recovery is at risk unless 1.2 million jobs are filled, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council and European Travel Commission.
Vacancies are likely to remain unfilled during the busy summer period, with travel agencies predicted to be the worst hit with a 30 percent shortfall of workers.
Airlines and hotels are likely to suffer one in five unfilled vacancies, representing 21 percent and 22 percent staff shortage respectively.
“Europe showed one of the strongest recoveries in 2021, ahead of the global average. However, current shortages of labor can delay this trend and put additional pressure on an already embattled sector,” said Julia Simpson, council president and CEO, in a statement.
In 2020, when the pandemic was at its peak, 1.7 million direct jobs were lost, they claimed. In 2021, when governments began to ease travel restrictions, the sector’s direct contribution to the European Union’s economy recovered by 30.4 percent and recovered 571,000 jobs.
This year, the council projects the sector’s recovery will continue to accelerate and almost reach pre-pandemic levels with an expected 32.9 percent increase in its direct contribution to the union’s economy.
The pair have identified six measures that governments and the private sector can implement to address the issue:
Facilitate labour mobility within countries and across borders and strengthen collaboration at all levels, providing visas and work permits
Enable flexible and remote working where feasible — particularly if travel restrictions still prevent workers from moving freely across borders
Ensure decent work, provide social safety nets and highlight career growth opportunities — with work that is safe, fair, productive, and meaningful — to reinforce the attractiveness of the sector as a career choice and retain new talent
Upskill and reskill talent and offer comprehensive training as well as create — to equip the workforce with new and improved skills
Create and promote education and apprenticeships — with effective policies, and public-private collaboration, that support educational programs and apprentice-based training
Adopt innovative technological and digital solutions to improve daily operations, as well as mobility and border security to ensure safe and seamless travel and an enhanced customer experience.
“Governments and the private sector need to come together to provide the best opportunities for people looking for the great career opportunities that the travel sector offers,” Simpson added.