Europe keen to welcome back Middle East tourists but holidays ‘won’t be normal’
European Travel Commission tempers expectations as continent aims to avoid another Covid crisis
Middle East travellers visiting Europe this summer will be welcomed enthusiastically but should “not expect to see what they usually see” as the continent puts safeguards in place to prevent another wave of infection.
Eduardo Santander, head of the European Travel Commission, told The National that the industry was optimistic about an increase in visitors but a campaign was under way to inform travellers that “summer in 2021 won’t be normal”.
He said countries across Europe had learned from mistakes made last year, when a patchwork of Covid-19 regulations meant tourists could visit some nations without stringent entry requirements, such as presenting a negative test result on arrival which is now in place across the EU.
“We’re not marketing to say, ‘Come here for this price’, rather we’re going to be educating people that the summer of 2021 is not a normal one,” he said.
“This is still a global pandemic – we’re not finished with it and we have to be very transparent about that. That is the message to people travelling this summer: don’t expect what you usually see.”
Mr Santander predicted supply would struggle to meet demand as hotels, hospitality and cultural venues comply with social distancing regulations.
“For example, if you want to go to the opera in Vienna, you should look to book because capacity is probably reduced by half,” he said.
“There will be a bottleneck of demand of people wanting to do things but at the same time capacity is limited for at least this year. That is the price we all have to pay if we want to travel.”
The EU is working on a Covid-19 certificate to enable citizens to travel more freely across the bloc, especially throughout summer.
The proposed Digital Green Certificate will contain proof that a traveller has been vaccinated against Covid-19, received a negative test result or recently recovered from the disease.
A separate proposal by the European Commission recommends expanding the green list of countries where non-essential travel from outside the bloc is allowed.
Under the plan, the threshold for the “safe” infection rate would be increased from 25 cases to 100 cases per 100,000. Exemptions would be made for vaccinated travellers.
Mr Santander said the proposal, which could be adopted within weeks, would “definitely ease travel rules for Gulf states”.
The commission said arrivals from the UAE increased by more than 150 per cent between 2009 and 2019, and operators are keen to tap into the big-spending market once again.
“Vaccination will pave the way for UAE and other Gulf travellers to visit European destinations soon again,” Mr Santander said.
Covid-secure travel needs 'common solutions'
Some holiday hotspots, including Greece, Italy and Cyprus, have announced plans to reopen to overseas travellers soon.
But there is concern that the lack of a universal Covid-19 pass could lead to long queues while documents are checked at airports.
London’s Heathrow Airport experienced the problem recently and bosses said the lack of a comprehensive digital solution could see flights diverted to Frankfurt or Paris to avoid lengthy queues when travel increases.
Mr Santander said high-level talks were taking place between governments for agreement on “interoperable” Covid certificates.
“This has to work,” he said. “You cannot have patchwork again – we need to see co-ordination and common solutions.”
In the UK, Visit Britain estimates the tourism sector will not be “back to, or even close to, normal levels” by the end of the year.
It predicted the sector would recover only 28 per cent of its 2019 performance, with 11.3 million visits.
The effects of travel restrictions are likely to further dissuade tourists from visiting, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock indicating this week that the UK was in no hurry to add countries to its green list.
A dozen countries and territories are on England’s green list, allowing for relatively free travel, but most others are categorised as amber or red, meaning travellers would need to quarantine at home or in an approved hotel on arrival.
Visit Britain director Patricia Yates said the return of international tourists was a crucial step for the sector.
“Much will depend on when travel can safely restart from our major inbound visitor markets, especially in the run-up to the critical summer season,” she said.
“As restrictions continue to ease and more countries can be added to the green list, we will be ready to launch campaigns in our major inbound tourism markets, promoting all the wonderful experiences to be had in Britain and competing hard for international visitors who are worth billions to our economy.”
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Updated: May 12, 2021 09:47 PM