MPs pass stimulus package for tourism

Ljubljana – The National Assembly passed on Wednesday an emergency bill worth EUR 243.5 million to help the embattled tourism sector. The short-time work scheme has been extended and new holiday vouchers introduced. The opposition warned that the measures, which are this time aimed at the most affected sectors, came too late and were insufficient.

The stimulus package for tourism and other sectors most affected by the Covid-19 epidemic brings new vouchers for a wide range of services that can be used in accommodation facilities, restaurants, and even bookshops, theatres, for concerts or various sports and other activities.

Adults will receive vouchers worth EUR 100 and those under 18 EUR 50. The total value of the vouchers is EUR 192 million.

Previous vouchers, worth EUR 200 for adults and EUR 50 for those under 18, could only be used for accommodation. They were introduced on 19 June last year, and according to data by the Financial Administration, EUR 146 million has been redeemed so far, some 41% of the total value.

Both the old and the new vouchers can be spent until the end of the year.

The new emergency bill also brings a series of measures to help companies in tourism, convention industry, restaurants, sports and culture.

This includes the EUR 20 million extension of the short-time work scheme for all sectors at least until the end of September with the possibility of extending it until the end of the year.

For tourism, hospitality, the events industry, sports and culture, subsidies for 2021 holiday allowance will also be available.

The legislation also delivers an 80% or 60% cost refund for event organisers from August until the end of the year, waiver of fees for water rights for swimming pools for the first half of this year, and a 25% refund for the cost of production of audiovisual works until the end of the year. Ski lift operators that were not allowed to work for a time during this year’s ski season will also get aid to offset part of their shortfall in revenue.

According to Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek, the situation in the economy in general is very good and businesses are expected to recover quickly. But some sectors have been particularly affected, so rather than preparing a ninth stimulus package, the government decided to draw up a special emergency law just for tourism and associated sectors, he told MPs on Tuesday.

Mihael Prevc from the coalition New Slovenia (NSi) said that the latest emergency bill complemented the previously introduced measures which had proved to be effective, and brought new temporary measures for the economy and tourism.

Marko Pogačnik from the ruling Democrats (SDS) pinpointed the extension of subsidies for shorter working hours, state co-funding of holiday allowance for employees in sectors that were hit the hardest, and aid for the convention film and audiovisual industries and for ski lift operators.

Outside the coalition, the National Party (SNS) and Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS) expressed support for the bill, while the rest of the opposition was critical. The centre-left opposition mainly regretted the government had not delivered on its promise to pay out one-off aid to businesses which had been banned from working due to government decrees.

“Such direct aid would be the most economical and would give those affected an immediate liquidity boost to restart their business while compensating for what they lost because of the epidemic,” said Marko Bandelli from the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) on Tuesday.

Economy Ministry State Secretary Simon Zajc agreed yesterday that such payment to the most affected would be necessary, adding that a proposal on this would be drawn up and that the money would come from cohesion funds, however this has not materialised.

Meira Hot from the Social Democrats (SD) said the cultural sector and NGOs should have also received aid.

The most fierce criticism came from Robert Pavšič, an MP for the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), who said the government had been carefree and even negligent in drawing up the measures, and Primož Siter from the Left, who said aid was coming much too late.

“You will be distributing new vouchers; this smells like pre-election bribery,” said Pavšič. Siter said the Left opposed the bill because it offered aid to the capital not the people.

Some MPs warned that some provisions from the stimulus package were not related to the epidemic such as the extension of validity of ID cards that expired as of 29 March 2020, temporary use of money from the Fund for Waters including for the financing of services of general economic interest, extension of validity of miners’ rights, extension of payment deadlines for deregistered vehicles, and Sunday opening of shops at airports.

Regardless of a ban on Sunday shopping, shops at airports may be open on Sundays and holidays until the end of 2022 under the stimulus package. Moreover, shops in tourist information centres and museums will also be permitted to be open on Sundays.

The legislation was endorsed in a 47:8 vote with the coalition, DeSUS, SNS and minority MPs voting in favour of it. The Left was the only party that voted against, whereas the rest of the centre-left opposition abstained.