European tourism chiefs voiced optimism over the prospects of resuming travel this summer but said the industry would not fully recover from the pandemic until 2024.
In a report summarising the situation as "not great, not terrible", the European Travel Commission said vaccinations and the EU's plans for a digital health pass would help to fulfil "pent-up demand" for foreign holidays.
Britain is poised to unveil its traffic-light system to resume international travel from May 17, while Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said this week that "the time has come to book your holidays in Italy".
“Following a gloomy 12 months, we finally have reasons to be more optimistic about summer 2021,” said ETC executive director Eduardo Santander.
But the industry body predicted that international arrivals in Europe this year would remain 46 per cent lower than usual.
Demand for international travel is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024, although domestic travel may return to normal by next year.
Air traffic figures for March 2021 showed a 68.9 per cent drop in aviation compared with March 2019, as travel remained largely restricted.
In addition, the hospitality industry’s recovery is moving more slowly in Europe than in the US or China because tougher restrictions remain in place, the ETC said.
With governments under pressure to revive their battered economies, countries are looking to digital health certificates as a way of resuming travel.
The EU’s planned certificate will allow people to prove that they have either been vaccinated, tested negative or recently recovered from Covid-19.
Britain is working on similar plans, and G7 transport ministers held an online round of talks on Wednesday to establish global standards.
“The rollout of vaccination programmes in Europe, although hampered by some hurdles, has proven its effectiveness in stopping Covid-19 infection rates,” Mr Santander said.
“Meanwhile, the proposed EU Digital Green Certificate opens the door for destinations across Europe to welcome back European and international travellers in the coming season, much earlier than we thought.
“What’s needed now to revive consumer confidence is clarity of communications regarding the applicable travel rules and the speedy rollout of [the] EU certificate.”
Brussels hopes to launch the certificate by June, but Italy moved ahead this week by saying it would look to resume tourism with its own health pass in mid-May.
Cyprus also moved ahead last week by announcing it would open up to vaccinated tourists travelling from 65 countries, including the US and UAE, from May 10.
Germany, which is still under a strict lockdown, said on Thursday it would seek to allow some holiday travel this summer.
“We want as much holiday as is responsible in the summer,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said during a visit to Turkey.