EU Borders to Reopen as Travel Sector Awaits Much-Needed Jolt
By: Gerelyn Terzo of Sharemoney
International travel is looking up. The European Parliament and Council have reached an agreement to issue COVID-19 vaccine certificates to eligible citizens, clearing the way for people to travel throughout Europe without having to quarantine upon their return.
The lifting of the quarantine requirement will give people their freedom back and is expected to provide a much-needed jolt to a beaten-down travel industry, which came to a screeching halt as a result of the pandemic-fueled lockdowns. International travellers are no doubt eying places such as Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom,
Thanks to the COVID certificates, Europeans are closer to being able to “travel safely,” while businesses can ring the register and transportation will open up once again, according to European Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders. According to the announcement, the certificates, which will be issued in both digital and paper-based formats, will be distributed at no charge to Europeans and cover three situations: “vaccination, test, and recovery,”.
The new rule isn’t expected to be signed into law until the end of June. As a result, effective July 1, certificate holders can travel to all 27 EU member states without having to worry about additional restrictions. EU countries can use their discretion as necessary to enforce restrictions on individual countries in the event there is a change in status, such as a new variant of the disease circulating in the area.
The COVID certificates come on the heels of yet another step toward open borders— EU countries have agreed to relax restrictions on visitors from outside the eurozone as long as the tourists received an EU-sanctioned vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson) at least two weeks before travelling. There are some grey areas, as the vaccines distributed in the United States qualify while those originating from Russia or China do not.
The EU will ease restrictions on jurisdictions they deem safe, such as the U.K. American tourists who can prove they have been inoculated from the disease are expected to be included too. According to a Bloomberg report, other non-EU countries with few COVID-19 cases could make it onto what’s known as a “white list,” allowing visitors from those nations to travel without proof of vaccination.
Incidentally, Spain is allowing UK tourists to return to the country, effective May 24, after a ban was implemented in December 2020. Upon returning, they won’t need to take the COVID-19 test or provide proof of vaccination. Travellers will still be subject to the UK’s own travel-related requirements when they return to the region. Spain Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is looking forward to a “much better summer” than 2020 and is anticipating a recovery in the country’s travel industry.
France has plans to open its borders on June 9 with the requirement that tourists can produce a “sanitary pass,” displaying evidence of being vaccinated or a positive COVID test. Businesses, including cafes and restaurants, have already begun opening their doors to the public along with museums and entertainment venues, though some restrictions still apply.
Meanwhile, though the U.K. is no longer a part of the EU, it leads Europe in the number of vaccines administered. The U.K. is followed by Germany, France, Italy, and Turkey to round out the top five.
European Travel Industry
Easing travel restrictions could not come too soon for Europe, where the pandemic sunk international arrivals to a three-decade low. According to a report by the European Travel Commission (ETC), the decline in international arrivals to European destinations ranged between 51% and 85% last year, according to a report by European Travel Commission (ETC).
- Montenegro suffered an 85% decline in international arrivals
- Cyprus saw an 84% decline as the U.K., Russia, and Israel, where most of the country’s international arrivals originate, implemented severe travel restrictions.
- Romania saw an 83% decline, fueled by fewer arrivals from China, Canada, Spain, and the United States.
Overall, international arrivals of tourists to Europe plummeted by 70% last year vs. 2019 levels. Europe’s international travel segment is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until next year. HOWEVER, the ETC is predicting that travel will achieve a new normal in the summer and fall months of 2021, which underpins the effect that the COVID certificates will have.
The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has cheered the EU’s travel-friendly decisions. The vice president of the organization, Virginia Messina, believes that the certificates could salvage millions of jobs in the travel and tourism sector, not to mention the thousands of businesses that will be saved thanks to higher sales.
Unfortunately, much of the damage has already been done. Some 62 million people who worked in the travel and tourism industry became unemployed since the pandemic began. Meanwhile, the travel and tourism sector suffered €3.8 trillion in losses last year after borders were closed and transportation came to a halt. The industry’s contribution to global GDP was slashed by just over 49% last year.
As vaccines continue to roll out, and the number of COVID-19 cases continues to decline, the economic forecast in the eurozone is improving. The ETC’s economic outlook calls for GDP in the eurozone to revisit pre-pandemic levels in early 2022, though it will take longer for the most severely hit countries. The ETC says to Germany, France, and Italy will experience sharp economic recoveries into next year.
Europe is a major contributor to the global travel and tourism industry, having been responsible for $830 billion, or 30% of the sector’s GDP in 2019. By the same token, the travel and tourism sector is a key contributor to the GDP of EU countries. With the European borders opening up once again for travel, optimism for an economic recovery in the eurozone is on the rise.