ROME—Travel has been one of the most deeply gutted industries of the global coronavirus pandemic, so it should come as no surprise that many countries that rely on it for so much of their GDP are getting anxious about when they can start opening up. But travel is not just about the destination. Getting away is also a way of life for millions of people who take breaks for self-indulgence, prestige, or cultural enrichment. And with the dream of the “immunity passport” for those who have successfully conquered COVID-19 increasingly unreliable this soon in the pandemic, travel may be annoyingly restrictive for some time to come.
One thing is sure: Gone are the days of the American abroad, at least for those hoping to summer in Europe this year. The new models on how to reopen European travel do not have room for the American tourist for the foreseeable future.
The European Union is set to release new guidelines called “Europe Needs a Break” on Wednesday that will recommend replacing travel bans with what they are calling “targeted restrictions” based on contagion levels and reciprocity among European and neighboring nations, many of which have been under draconian lockdowns backed by science. The key to any successful reopening in Europe is based entirely on risk assessment, meaning anyone coming from a nation deemed risky or careless will be the first to be banned. Simply put, anyone who has been under the lax American approach to the pandemic, which has been the laughing stock of Europe, won’t be welcome any time soon.
The plan is expected to endorse a number of “corona corridors” already in the works, including a deal being hammered out among Greece, Cyprus, and Israel that would allow tourists to travel without quarantine between these three nations, all of which have escaped the worst of the pandemic by locking down hard and early. One in four jobs in Greece and two in four in Cyprus are tourism-related and since Israel has recently emerged as a demographic that adores both nations as holiday destinations, the deal was a no-brainer. But it has been difficult to work out the finer points, like Israel’s own mandatory quarantine for all international travelers that would have to be lifted for Greeks and Cypriots.
“That means agreeing on every possible guideline and health protocol—from the medical clearances travelers will need to have before setting foot in either of the three countries, to whether hotels will offer breakfast and dinner buffets,” Greek Tourism Minister Haris Theoharis told Voice of America this week. “Tracking and tracing systems will also have to be in place if there is an outbreak of infections at a resort.”
Another corona corridor in the works is being negotiated among the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Croatia, which are sifting through details that would allow travelers between those nations to move more freely.
The U.K. and France have already reciprocally lifted the mandatory two-week quarantine for citizens of either nation traveling between them, and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he hopes to kickstart the hospitality industry by July, though it may just be the French who can realistically come to enjoy any of it. Malta and Italy have also expressed interest in finding a third travel partner with which to share freedoms—and tourist dollars—with the most likely partner Spain, which, like Italy, has a lot to lose if the pandemic comes back.
But none of the plans account for Americans or other foreign nationals who have residency in any of the corona corridor countries, according to a European Union travel expert who helped draft the plan who spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity until the report is officially released. Access to previously restricted areas will be granted solely on a passport basis to ensure people aren’t traveling clandestinely to third-party countries to get to a Greek island or Italian beach when they open up. This means that if you have an American passport—as travelers from the U.S. aren’t included—you will be unwelcome no matter which country you are coming from or how long you’ve been there.
If the European Union eventually endorses such corona corridor agreements, the zone could salvage some of the June to August summer travel season that brings in $163 billion in revenue from around 360 million international arrivals, according to the latest European Commission statistics. The EU will start with recommendations for gradually lifting internal border checks in areas where the health situation has improved across the 27-member Eurozone, according to a draft of the report, which starts with the line, “Our tourism industry is in grave trouble.”
The European Union is expected to warn that 6.4 million jobs could be lost if people don’t take summer vacations, but they will stipulate that not everyone is a welcome guest.
International travelers from the U.S. and other countries that have not upheld safety standards on par with European standards will be offered vouchers in lieu of reimbursements for trips they will be forced to cancel as an enticement to come back once the pandemic is over. Americans likely won’t be allowed to Europe any time soon for anything but essential reasons, at least as long as the State Department maintains its Level 4 travel alert, prohibiting all but essential travel—read: not tourism—be undertaken.
Americans, instead, will have to focus their getaway plans closer to home, like Latin America or Canada—so long as they are coming from a state that is not a hot spot. It is already increasingly easier to cross the northern border between the U.S. and Canada, with a Canadian source telling The Daily Beast on Monday that he was able to get through by saying he was visiting a friend in the States as long as he could prove he was financially able to afford the trip. And as The New York Times noted over the weekend, air travel to Mexico remains open.
But traveling south may be tricky, too. Brazil, which is rumored to have more than one million COVID-19 cases, is indeed open for business, but many other countries that attract tourists are not. Most Caribbean islands, including the Cayman Islands, Barbados, and Jamaica, are still closed to travelers, at least from abroad, as they work to contain what has so far been a manageable contagion rate. Many of the tourist islands plan to implement testing upon entry and some have already started preparing “quarantine hotels” for anyone who is found positive on arrival.
Industry analysts say it will take many years for tourism to approach anything close to the pre-pandemic ease with which millions traversed the globe for pleasure. “Until a vaccine or treatment is available, the needs and benefits of travel and tourism needs to be weighed against the risks of again facilitating the spread of the virus,” the European Union will say in its new report, meaning no one is going anywhere too far from home any time soon.