As pandemic restrictions ease, hopes grow for travel to Europe

SWANSEA, Wales (AP) — When Sierra Schade booked a trip from Atlanta to Greece, she hoped more European countries would follow Greece’s lead and open up to American travelers.

She has now been able to add Italy and France to the itinerary of her trip next month after the 27-nation European Union recommended last week that restrictions be lifted for American tourists.

As pandemic restrictions begin to ease, travelers and the businesses in Europe that depend on them are eager to get back to something resembling normal.

In 2019, before the pandemic, tourism and related activities accounted for 10% of EU GDP, which means that the return of international travel is essential for economic recovery, especially for countries like Greece and the EU. Italy who are more dependent on it. That figure has nearly halved in 2020, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

There is cautious optimism that tourists will return this year, although the EU does not expect industry growth to return to 2019 levels until at least 2023.

Schade has flexibility because she works for an airline, but a confusing patchwork of restrictions has made it harder for average travelers to book travel. And European travelers are still not welcome in the United States

In Europe, governments use a traffic light system where countries in green are considered safe and countries in red dangerous, but they don’t all use the same criteria, confusing those who want to take a trip.

And while the EU has agreed that member countries should gradually remove restrictions on travelers from the United States and a handful of other countries, it is ultimately up to each country to decide how and when. it wishes to open its borders. Different countries may also have different requirements regarding COVID vaccinations and testing.

Things might get a little easier, at least for Europeans, when the EU’s digital COVID certificate comes into effect next week. The certificates will certify the tests and vaccinations of EU citizens, allowing them to travel between countries without having to quarantine or undergo coronavirus tests.

Jennifer Janzen, of Europe’s largest airline association, Airlines for Europe, hopes the certificate, if widely adopted, will at least help to combat confusion among Europeans about travel, merging “27 different systems for traveling, in one system”.

She said most Europeans don’t bother to travel outside their own country, with the rules constantly changing, but a slight uptick is expected soon.

“We are moving from a long period of chaos, where no one traveled, to now a state where the industry is really hoping that we will have some sort of recovery for travel in Europe,” Janzen said.

Many businesses that depend on tourists are still in wait-and-see mode.

“At the moment there is not much tourism in Barcelona because of the pandemic,” said Roger Martin. He and his parents own Bar del Pi, a tapas bar and restaurant in the heart of the Spanish city. He said the lack of young tourists and local nightlife meant much less business.

Still, he hopes the EU health passport will bring more tourism and investment in local businesses, including his own.

Not everyone has waited for a health passport to take a trip or let pandemic restrictions get in the way of their travel plans.

Irina Gatilova, who lives in the Czech Republic and is not yet fully vaccinated, was tested for coronavirus for a recent trip to Italy, also passing through Austria and Germany. Shortly after, she took a family trip to Russia, where she is now, knowing that a mandatory quarantine awaits her when she returns home.

Gatilova supports the idea of ​​the EU health passport and plans to get one after her second dose of the vaccine.

“Being outside the EU at the moment, I don’t feel very comfortable in hotels or public places where they don’t ask for tests and people don’t wear masks,” he said. she declared. “If there were mandatory COVID passports for travelers, it would give me confidence and peace of mind.”

Recent data from the European Travel Commission revealed that two-thirds of Europeans plan to travel by the end of November.

Executive Director and CEO Eduardo Santander said the travel industry in Europe is feeling further relief and optimism with US travelers allowed back in.

“American travelers (are) very important to many European destinations that really depend on them and their market power,” he said, adding that these travelers often visit several countries at once.

But Europeans are still not allowed to fly to the United States, and Santander said the lack of reciprocity poses a challenge for airlines who would rather not bring empty planes back to the United States.

Still, US airlines have been rushing to add new transatlantic flight destinations in the wake of the recent news, with American Airlines spokesman Nate Gatten welcoming it as a “positive development”.

For Schade, the easing of restrictions means a chance to get out into the world again.

“We were both very sure about COVID,” she said, referring to the friend she plans to travel with. “So (this trip) is our first time…going out and being able to do things that aren’t at home.”


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Urooba Jamal, Associated Press

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