SWANSEA, Wales – When Sierra Schade booked a trip to Greece from Atlanta, she hoped more European countries would follow Greece’s lead and open up to US travelers.
She could now add Italy and France to her itinerary for her trip next month after the EU recommended of 27 nations last week that restrictions on American tourists be lifted.
As pandemic restrictions wear off, travelers and the businesses in Europe that rely on them are eager to get back to something normal.
In 2019, before the pandemic, tourism and related activities accounted for 10% of the EU’s gross domestic product, which means that the return of international travel is key to economic recovery, especially for countries like Greece and Italy that are more keen are instructed. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, that number was almost halved in 2020.
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There is cautious optimism about the return of tourists this year, although the EU does not expect industry growth to return to 2019 levels before at least 2023.
Schade is flexible because she works for an airline, but a confusing patchwork of restrictions has made booking travel more difficult for the average traveler. And European travelers are still not welcome in the US
Within Europe, governments use a traffic light system where countries marked green are considered safe and countries marked red are unsafe, but not all use the same criteria, which confuses those looking to travel.
While the EU has agreed that member states should gradually lift restrictions on travelers from the US and a handful of other countries, it is ultimately up to each country to decide how and when to open its borders. Different countries may also have different requirements for vaccinations and Covid tests.
At least for Europeans, it could be a little easier when the EU Digital Covid Certificate comes into force next week. The certificates certify tests and vaccinations for EU citizens that allow them to travel between countries without being quarantined or subjected to coronavirus tests.
Jennifer Janzen of Europe’s largest airline association, Airlines for Europe, hopes that if the certificate is widespread, it will at least help tackle European confusion about travel and “bring together 27 different travel systems into a single system”.
She said that most Europeans don’t bother to travel outside of their own country as the rules are constantly changing, but an increase is expected soon.
“We’re moving from a … long period of chaos where no one has traveled to a state where the industry really hopes we have some sort of recovery for European travel,” said Janzen.
Many shops that rely on tourists are still on hold.
“At the moment there is not a lot of tourism in Barcelona because of the pandemic,” said Roger Martin.
He and his parents own the Bar del Pi, a tapas bar and a restaurant in the heart of the Spanish city. He said the lack of young tourists and nightlife has 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 been waiting for a health pass to go on a trip or let pandemic restrictions prevent them on their travel plans.
Irina Gatilova, who lives in the Czech Republic and has not yet been fully vaccinated, recently underwent a coronavirus test for a trip to Italy, including Austria and Germany. Shortly thereafter, she went on a family trip to Russia, where she is currently staying, knowing that she will be subject to mandatory quarantine on her return home.
Gatilova supports the idea of the EU health passport and plans to get one after her second vaccination dose.
“As I am currently outside the EU, I am not very comfortable in hotels or public places where testing is not required and people are not wearing masks,” she said. “If there were mandatory Covid passports for travelers, that would give me confidence and peace of mind.”
According to the latest data from the European Travel Commission, two thirds of Europeans plan to travel by the end of November. The travel industry in Europe is feeling additional relief and optimism as American travelers are re-admitted, said Executive Director and CEO Eduardo Santander.
“US travelers [are] very important for many European travel destinations that really depend on them and their market power, “he said, adding that these travelers often visit several countries at the same time.
But Europeans are still banned from visiting the US, and Santander said the lack of reciprocity is a challenge for airlines that prefer not to fly empty planes back to the US After the recent news, American Airlines spokesman Nate Gatten welcomed this as a “positive development”.
For Schade, the easing of the restrictions means a chance to get back out into the world.
“We were both very covid-safe,” she said, referring to the friend she plans to travel with. “So [this trip] is our first time … being outside and doing things that are not at home. “
FILE – In this photo taken on Friday 9th The return of international travel is key to economic recovery across Europe, especially for countries more dependent on tourism, such as the one on Thursday June 24th 2021 by World Travel and Tourism Council published figures. (AP Photo / Gregorio Borgia, FILE)
FILE – In this photo taken on Sunday April 4, 2021, a medical staff prepares Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site in Sarcelles, near Paris. The 27-nation European Union has recommended lifting restrictions on American tourists as more people are vaccinated in the US and Europe, and travelers are eager for things to return to normal. (AP Photo / Christophe Ena, FILE)
FILE – In this file photo from Tuesday June 22, 2021, people on a beach in Kavouri near Athens, Greece. There is cautious optimism about the return of tourists in 2021, and according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, international travel is key to economic recovery for countries like Greece and Italy that are more dependent on it. (AP Photo / Yorgos Karahalis)
FILE – In this file photo taken on Friday February 5, 2021, a plane lands near a government coronavirus sign at Heathrow Airport in London. The return of international travel is key to economic recovery, especially for countries more dependent on tourism, according to figures released by the World Travel and Tourism Council on Thursday, June 24, 2021. (AP Photo / Kirsty Wigglesworth, FILE)