ROME—American tourists used to fill the outdoor tables of Caffe di Marzio on Piazza Santa Maria in the popular Roman tourist district of Trastevere. “You would always hear American English any time of the day,” the cafe barista told The Daily Beast. “Now if I hear American English I get very nervous. I wonder if they are residents here or somehow snuck in.”
In fact, Americans have not been welcome in these parts for more than a year, since Europe slammed its borders shut as the pandemic—which took hold in Italy before spreading throughout the EU—quickly got worse in the U.S. And it doesn’t look like Europe is anywhere close to letting them back in—vaccinated or not. Since the European rollout is painstakingly slow, no one wants to envision a scenario where unvaccinated Europeans are looking out of lockdown at Americans partying in their streets.
Also, Americans have not exactly proven themselves to be respectful of conventional wisdom when it comes to anti-COVID measures. Last year, as things got better in Europe–at least for a brief period before the second and third waves hit—the news from America seemed to underscore the impact of a lack of mask mandate and an overzealous sense of entitlement when it comes to freedom of movement. In Europe, mask mandates are the norm and countries are only now considering opening back up to the same level Americans shut down to.
Now, Americans are getting vaccinated at an astonishingly effective rate, and many are ready to get back on the road. Miami is already one big party. People are booking holidays for the summer and the cruise ship passenger boards on social media are lighting up with excitement. Airlines have announced they won’t lose money in March, and daily passenger numbers are up over a million. And much of Latin America and parts of Africa have remained open to American tourists and, more importantly, American dollars.
But that doesn’t mean Americans are yet welcome everywhere. “NO! Just don’t come here!!!” one New Zealander wrote on a travel board after a vaccinated American posed the question about where she could go for a long-awaited holiday. The American, seemingly perplexed, then wrote that she was vaccinated and, as such, safe to travel. “I don’t care,” the Kiwi replied. “Just stay where you are.” As it turns out, the American couldn’t go to New Zealand even if she wanted to because the New Zealand border is closed to all international travelers, vaccinated or not, and might only start letting Australians enter the country in mid-April.
Americans used to be able to go to the U.K. fairly easily, as long as they quarantined, but the new variants have made it difficult to return to the U.S. Americans may remain barred from Europe this summer even if they are vaccinated. Just a few countries outside the Shengen zone, including Albania and Kosovo, are happy to take the U.S. tourist dollar. Croatia, which paid a heavy price by allowing Americans in last summer, has since closed its border to US travelers after a deadly surge in cases.
Gillian McGuire is a writer and travel adviser based in Rome, and runs the popular blog Gillian’s Lists. All of her clients are American, and none of them has been here since the pandemic hit. As much as she misses those American dollars, she is still reluctant to have them back. “I think the speed and success of vaccinations in the U.S. is cause for cautious optimism, with the emphasis on cautious,” she told The Daily Beast. “Since wearing masks here in Italy is government-mandated, that should make the anti-maskers a moot point. My personal preference is that a client I am spending all day with be vaccinated, but ultimately that is a more complicated request.”
She, like many others in the tourist industry, would like a few more assurances before the borders open back up. “To be completely honest I have mixed feelings about tourism returning,” she says. “The last 12 months have been punishing, but I have seen what Rome and Venice can be without a crushing number of visitors. My wish is for something in-between where we were in 2019 and where we are now.”
The ban on Americans isn’t just in Europe. Canada still won’t let Americans in for leisure travel and has even blocked all cruise ship travel in Canadian waters until March 2022. Only four Canadian airports (Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Calgary) are accepting international flights, and those onboard face heavy restrictions, including mandatory three-day quarantine hotel bookings that cost around $2,000—though the fine for refusing the quarantine hotel is around $600, so many visitors are opting for the fine and quarantining on their own. Americans who do qualify to travel to Canada for work or family matters are required to use an arrival and contact tracing app and provide a phone number for controlled surveillance. Those who don’t quarantine face heavy fines and despite a much more vigorous vaccination program in the U.S. than in Canada, things are not likely to change any time soon. “We’re all eager to be able to travel again,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this week. “But I think we’re all going to wait patiently until such time as the health situation allows us to loosen border restrictions internationally. That’ll be eventually, but not for today.”
Still, there are a few options for Americans with wanderlust. Many of the Caribbean islands, including the Bahamas, as well as much of Latin America and many African nations only require American travelers to present a negative COVID-19 test before take-off to skirt quarantines. And more countries are eyeing opening up. Rabbi Ken Spiro is a historian, writer and tour guide in Jerusalem. He says he can’t wait until Americans are allowed back into the country. Israel’s aggressive vaccination program has essentially turned the country into a trial for Pfizer, after reaching an agreement to share all medical data with the company. More than half of the population has received its first jab and 46 percent are fully vaccinated which should make it feasible to open borders relatively soon, with Americans among the first to be welcomed with open arms. “There will be a big wave like the roaring ’20s,” Spiro told The Daily Beast, adding that he hoped the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel would be strengthened when Americans can come. “We are going out of our way to invite Americans back. I don’t personally care who is vaccinated or not. I just want them back.”