While the success of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout in the US has fuelled optimism about a strong summer travel rebound, tourism officials in Europe say that slower progress on vaccines there coupled with new surges likely means any widespread return of
Americans won't happen until 3Q 2021.
"I don't see anything happening in terms of Europe as a whole [opening] before late July," said Tom Jenkins, CEO of the European Tourism Association. "There's a possibility that July may yield something, but most people are looking at August, September."
Jenkins said one exception could be the UK, which is much further ahead of the region in vaccinations.
Officially, the EU's more than year-long ban on inbound travel from the US and most countries outside the region remains in effect, but its members are not bound by that.
For instance, Iceland on 6 April opened to international visitors who can show proof of a vaccine
or recovery from a previous infection. Greece has said it hopes to open in mid-May to vaccinated
travelers. And Croatia has lifted its travel restrictions for fully vaccinated visitors.
And many expect more countries, particularly in Southern Europe, to follow suit.
But with many countries back in lockdown and concerns about rare blood clots from the AstraZeneca vaccine further delaying already slow vaccine rollouts across the region, both Jenkins and European Travel Commission CEO Eduardo Santander said the current
travel landscape looks a lot like it did a year ago.
"Besides a few destinations with a relatively stable epidemiological situation in the south of Europe, travel is essentially on hold now all across Europe," Santander said. "Many European countries are introducing stricter measures right now hoping to
quickly halt the third wave of infections."
The good news, Santander said, is there seems to be the political will by EU members to pass a digital health certificate that tracks vaccines, Covid tests and those who have recovered from Covid in order to open borders across the region.
Santander said he hopes the plan can be adopted by June and said there is hope that the EU and the US can reach agreement on a common technology for such certificates to ease travel. He said there have been some talks recently between European leaders and the Biden administration about how to open travel. And airlines are aggressively lobbying to reopen US-Europe routes.
"There is a principle of cooperation there," he said. "We had forecast that international travel would resume at the end of the third quarter of the year. We think if the digital solution works ... Europe will be able to open to the US and other long-haul
destinations much earlier."
Some American travel companies remain optimistic of earlier restarts, albeit fragmented until the EU is able to agree on a framework for lifting its ban on most international visitors.
Globus, for instance, was set to announce this week that it was resuming operations in June to select international destinations, including Iceland, which is part of the EU's passport-free Schengen Area.
Chief marketing officer Steve Born called it "a step toward broader operation in Europe, as we anticipate access will expand in the coming weeks for the back half of June leading into July".
Dan Mahar, CEO of Tauck, said, "I think there is a chance for some countries, based on their own particular circumstances, to make decisions that are best for their country.
"The world could look very different there in 60 to 90 days. Look how different our world looks," Mahar said.
Source: Travel Weekly