LONDON (AP) – Chaos and confusion over travel rules and measures to contain new virus outbreaks are contributing to another cruel summer for the European tourism industry.
Popular destination countries are grappling with increasing variants of COVID-19, but the mosaic and last-minute nature of the effort as peak season kicks off threatens to derail another summer.
In France, the most visited country in the world, visitors to cultural and tourist sites were faced this week with a new requirement for a special COVID-19 pass.
To get the pass, which comes in paper or digital form, people must prove that they are fully vaccinated or have recently recovered from an infection, or produce a negative virus test. Use of the pass could expand to restaurants and cafes next month.
Italy said on Thursday that people will need a similar pass to access museums and cinemas, dine at restaurants and cafes, and enter swimming pools, casinos and a range of other venues.
At the Eiffel Tower, unprepared tourists lined up for quick virus tests so they could get the pass to visit the Paris monument. Johnny Nielsen, who came from Denmark with his wife and two children, wondered about the usefulness of the French rules.
“If I get tested now I can go, but then I (might) have a corona in the queue here,” Nielsen said, although he added that they would not change their plans to. because of that.
Juan Truque, a tourist from Miami, said he was not vaccinated but had taken a test to be able to travel to France via Spain with his mother.
“Now they make you wear masks and do similar things that are forced on you. For me, these are violations of your freedom. he said.
Europe’s vital travel and tourism industry is desperate to catch up after a catastrophic 2020. International tourist arrivals to Europe fell nearly 70% last year, and for the first five months of this year, they are down 85%, according to UN World Figures from the Tourism Organization.
American, Japanese and Chinese travelers are not convinced that it will be possible to visit and move freely in Europe, the European Travel Commission has said. International arrivals are expected to remain at nearly half of their 2019 level this year, although domestic demand will help fill the gap.
The UK’s statistics office has suspended its monthly data on international passengers as it said there were not enough people arriving “to provide solid estimates”.
The United States this week raised its travel warning for Britain to the highest level. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised Americans to avoid travel to the country due to the risk of contracting COVID-19 variants, while the US State Department has raised its alert level to “do not not travel ”compared to the previous less serious“ reconsider the trip ”advisory.
Recommendations are constantly revised and non-binding, although they may affect group travel and insurance rates. Britain’s warning has fluctuated several times this year already.
However, some countries are showing signs of a rebound.
Spain, the second most visited country in the world, received 3.2 million tourists from January to May, a tenth of the amount for the same period of 2019. But visits jumped in June with 2.3 million ‘arrivals, the best monthly figure since the start of the pandemic, although it still represents only 75% of the figure of two years ago.
Spain’s Secretary of State for Tourism, Fernando Valdés, acknowledged that the European Union’s deployment in June of its digital passport for the COVID-19 vaccine had “a positive impact” on foreign arrivals. That, and the UK’s decision to allow non-essential travel, “has allowed us to start the 2021 summer season on the best footing,” he said.
The EU’s app allows residents on the block to show that they have been vaccinated, tested negative or cured of the virus.
In Greece, where COVID-19 infections are also on the rise, authorities have openly expressed concern that slowing vaccination rates could hurt the struggling tourism industry, a mainstay of the economy. Authorities have tightened restrictions on tourists and unvaccinated residents, banning their entry to all indoor dining and entertainment venues.
Development Minister Adonis Georgiadis urged the travel industry to show courage.
“It is very important that we do not give the impression that we have lost control of the pandemic,” Georgiadis said last week.
Some countries have sparked chaos with last minute changes to entry rules.
Denmark’s decision to put Britain on its ‘red’ list of countries with tighter travel restrictions has shaken London resident Richard Moorby’s vacation plans.
Moorby had originally planned to go to Copenhagen in August to meet his Danish wife and their two children to visit his in-laws – as they did last summer. But under the current rules, Moorby could not have traveled separately as he is not Danish. Instead, they planned to travel together, which they thought was allowed even after the change – but they missed the fine print in the ad banning non-Danes from ‘red list’ countries, including the UK, to go without commendable purpose, which does not include tourism.
“Either way, it was going to be a bit of a non-vacation,” Moorby said. But “it went from ‘We would have a great holiday in Denmark’ to ‘Well maybe I can get there pretty much’ to ‘I can’t even travel’.”
Meanwhile, the UK government unexpectedly announced that travelers from France would still have to self-isolate for up to 10 days amid concerns over the beta variant, frustrating travelers and angering the tourism industry and the French government.
Emma and Ben Heywood, UK owners of adventure travel company Undiscovered Montenegro, said booking requests were on the rise after the UK government said in the same announcement it would stop advising against travel to countries of its “orange list” and abandoned the self-isolation rule for returning travelers.
The couple said bookings last summer dropped to 10% of their usual level, but are now at 30% and are increasing rapidly. Montenegro has a relatively low infection rate and relaxed entry requirements.
“It’s so hard to keep everyone up to date on what’s required to go where, with so many countries and so many different rules involved,” said Ben Heywood.
“It’s a total minefield. Half of the emails I send now are from people saying, “We really want to come. What do we have to do?’ “
Alex Turnbull in Paris, Joseph Wilson in Barcelona, Spain, and Derek Gatopoulos in Athens, Greece, contributed to this report.