By UROOBA JAMAL, Associated Press
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 her trip itinerary next month after the European Union of 27 countries last week recommended that restrictions be lifted on American tourists.
As pandemic restrictions begin to ease, travelers and European businesses that depend on them are eager for a return to something that looks like normal.
In 2019, before the pandemic, tourism and related activities accounted for 10% of the EU’s GDP, which means that the return of international travel is the key to economic recovery, especially for countries like Greece and Europe. Italy who depend more on it. That figure was cut by almost half 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 as she works for an airline, but a confusing patchwork of restrictions has made booking travel more difficult for average travelers. 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 do not 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 US and a handful of other countries, it is ultimately up to each country to decide how and when. he wants to open his borders. Different countries may also have different requirements for COVID vaccinations and testing.
Things could get a little easier, at least for Europeans, when the EU’s COVID digital certificate goes into effect next week. The certificates will certify tests and vaccinations for 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 tackle Europeans’ confusion about travel, by merging “27 different systems for traveling, in one system ”.
She said most Europeans don’t bother to travel outside their own country with constantly changing rules, but a slight increase is expected soon.
“We are moving from (…) a long period of chaos, where no one has traveled, to now a state where the industry is really hoping that we will have some kind of recovery for travel in Europe,” said Janzen.
Many businesses that depend on tourists are still in a wait-and-see mode.
“At the moment, there is not a lot of tourism in Barcelona because of the pandemic,” Roger Martin said. 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 a lot less business.
Nonetheless, he hopes that the EU health passport will bring more tourism and investment in local businesses, including his own.
Not everyone waited for a health passport to take a trip or let pandemic restrictions hamper their travel plans.
Irina Gatilova, who lives in the Czech Republic and is not yet fully vaccinated, underwent coronavirus tests for a recent trip to Italy, also crossing Austria and Germany. Soon after, she set off on a family trip to Russia, where she is now, knowing that a mandatory quarantine awaits her upon her return 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 where 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 feels additional relief and optimism with re-authorized US travelers.
“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 multiple countries at once.
But Europeans are still not allowed to travel to the United States, and Santander said the lack of reciprocity posed a challenge for airlines who would prefer not to 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 of the world again.
“We were both very safe from COVID,” she said, referring to the friend she plans to travel with. “So (this trip) is our first time … being outside and being able to do things that are not at home.”
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