Europe is welcoming US travelers again, but the timing and requirements are still unclear
Brussels American tourists could visit continental Europe again soon, more than a year after the European Union kept travel to the 27-nation bloc to a minimum in order to contain the country. EU officials have announced that they will finalize plans to leave the Americans behind this summer, depending on the course of the outbreak on both sides of the Atlantic.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, will shortly be making a proposal to its member states but did not say when exactly vacation travel could resume or whether a two-way approach will apply to Europeans who want to visit the US for their doors tourists from the continent were closed.
It was also not immediately clear whether all U.S. tourists would have to provide proof of vaccination to enter, or whether a negative test for the coronavirus or evidence of recent recovery from COVID-19 would be acceptable instead.
“These are some of the questions that we still have to clarify,” said European Commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz. Jahnz said the EU executive hopes to restore transatlantic vacation travel “as soon as it is safe”.
CBS News correspondent Holly Williams reported from London that many European leaders would like to welcome American tourists back to cure their COVID-plagued economies. With more than 15 million Americans traveling to Europe annually before the crisis, the prospect of US travelers flocking to landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, the Canals of Venice or the German Brandenburg Gate would be welcome news for those hardest hit Tourism industry of the continent.
EF Go Ahead Tours, a Boston-based company that offers small-group tours to Europe and elsewhere, is expecting extremely high demand once Americans can visit Europe again.
The International Air Transport Association, a trade group that represents 290 airlines in 120 countries, welcomed the news from the EU leadership.
“This is a step in the right direction,” said IATA Director General Willie Walsh in a statement. “It gives people hope for so many reasons – to travel, reunite with loved ones, develop business opportunities, or get back to work.”
Vaccination and travel
Jahnz said the EU was closely following the vaccination campaign in the US, where more than 94 million people aged 18 and over, or about 36.5% of the adult population, were fully vaccinated.
Theleft the bloc far behind the US. On Sunday, the New York Times quoted the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, as saying that fully vaccinated Americans will be able to visit EU countries this summer as all coronavirus vaccines used in the US have also been approved by the EU regulator, the European Medicines Agency.
“This will enable freedom of movement and travel to the European Union,” she said. “Because one thing is clear: all 27 member states unconditionally accept everyone who has been vaccinated with vaccines approved by the EMA.”
Von der Leyen said on Monday that the region, which is home to around 450 million people, has already passed 123 million vaccinations and is said to have vaccinated 70% of all adults by July.
The EU is putting the finishing touches to a system of certificates that will allow EU citizens to travel freely around the region until summer as long as they have been vaccinated, tested negative or cured of the disease.
As part of the plan discussed with her colleagues in the United States, certificates issued in the United States could be integrated into the program.
As for the UK, which is no longer a member of the EU, Americans visiting the UK are required to isolate and have coronavirus tests for 10 days before and after travel.
According to IATA, people who test negative for COVID-19, not just those who are vaccinated, should be allowed to travel freely. The group also said it was important to develop globally recognized standards for vaccine certification. The IATA is one of the groups testing a vaccination record system.
Different countries, different rules?
“From our point of view, uniliterative approaches should be avoided,” said Jahnz. “The aim is to continue to pursue a coordinated approach at European level.”
While most EU countries are waiting for the European Medicines Agency and other agencies to issue an umbrella recommendation on the safety of returning American travelers, individual countries can set their own rules – and some have already done so.
As Williams reported, Greece, which has an incredibly tourism-dependent economy, decided a week ago to let American vacationers return.
In the UK, aviation industry executives and lobbyists are urging officials to open a “travel bridge” with the US on May 17, the date the UK government expects to lift restrictions on non-essential international travel for residents.
When Iceland reopened its borders earlier this month, bookings soared and most of the summer tour dates were sold out, the company said. Last month, as more Americans were vaccinated, the company also saw double-digit growth in reservations for European tours for the 2022 and 2023 dates.
Williams said another question that is of great concern to American vacation planners is the extent of the restrictions they find in various European destinations when they go on a trip.
Currently, the rules vary significantly from country to country.
For example, in France, COVID infection rates are still high and the country is completely on lockdown with no restaurants, bars or attractions open. The UK reopened cafes and restaurants for outdoor service a few weeks ago, and most of the outdoor attractions are open. The British heads of state and government hope to be able to reopen everything by the end of June.
However, all of these rules are subject to local conditions, including infection rates and the success of mass vaccination programs.
Notes of caution
Last week, the US State Department urged Americans to reconsider any international travel they plan to do. It issued special warnings not to visit about 80% of the countries in the world due to the risks of the coronavirus pandemic, including many European countries.
Rick Steves, who has written guidebooks and television shows about European travel, said he was glad that European countries are working together and want to bring tourism back to life. However, he doesn’t expect his company, Rick Steves’ Europe, to offer its popular bus tours of Europe until the end of 2021 at the earliest to ensure a safe restart of the trip. In March of last year, Steves had to cancel and refund 20,000 tours.
“In order not to repeat this disappointment, I plan to restart our tours very conservatively,” said Steves. “We will only do this if we believe that it is safe for Europe to be able to offer the kind of adventure travel that is fundamental to our tour program and when we are reasonably confident that things are stable and stay open.”