After a year of no travel, a post-vaccine summer trip to Europe sounds very enticing to many. Airfare prices may be low, and hotel deals abundant, but the real question is: Will Europe let in American travelers in summer 2021?
A few European countries have mostly remained open to tourists during the pandemic, albeit with restrictions around quarantining and COVID-19 tests. Others are now welcoming fully vaccinated travelers. However, predictions around summer travel to popular European destinations like Italy and France are murky.
Europe letting in American travelers this summer will depend on many factors. New variants on the virus, data around vaccinated travelers spreading the virus (or not), and vaccine rollouts across Europe and the U.S. could all impact the reopening.
To get a clearer picture of a realistic summer travel forecast, we checked in with industry experts.
Countries and Airlines Give Hope to European Travel This Summer
Many people pointed towards the airline industry as a hopeful sign for European travel this summer. Claudia Fanini, CEO of The Italian Planners (a Milan-based travel and event agency), sees promising signals for Americans to return to Europe this summer—like Delta’s launch of “COVID-tested trial flights” that allow passengers on select flights between Atlanta or New York and Rome to provide a negative COVID-19 test and skip quarantine upon arrival in Italy.
Fanini predicts that there is a good chance “Americans will be able to fly to Europe this summer without quarantine obligation onboard COVID-tested flights”, saying also that “Italy is experimenting with COVID-testing on its fast trains between Milan and Rome, where passengers will be tested onboard”.
António Lacerda, ARPTA ( the Alentejo Promotion Office), agrees, citing United Airlines’ plan to create seven new routes between the U.S. and Lisbon this summer.
Some countries within Europe have made their plans to reopen to tourists clear, offering a look at what restrictions they plan to introduce to allow tourism to resume safely.
“I fully expect many European destinations to welcome Americans this summer”, says Darren Burn, Founder and Managing Director of OutOfOffice.com and TravelGay.com. “Greece —which is one of our most popular destinations, especially for honeymooners—has already outlined its plan to welcome tourists from across the world from May as long as the visitor can provide evidence of a vaccine or a negative PCR test. Spain has also said it will welcome tourists once its vaccination program hits 30-40% and although they have been slow off the mark in rolling out vaccinations there is no reason that by this summer they won’t have exceeded that number.”
You Might Need a Vaccine Passport to Travel to Europe
If you want to travel to Europe this summer, it’s looking very likely that you will need to be vaccinated first (and have proof). There has been lots of speculation in the news that many E.U. countries will require vaccine passports (proving that a visitor has been fully-immunized against COVID-19) to enter.
“For example, Greece, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, and Cyprus are pushing for the E.U. to introduce vaccine passports, which would allow travelers to enter during the summer unrestricted”, says Mark Whitman, Founder of U.K.-based adventure travel company Mountain IQ. “These programs are, however, still facing resistance from France and Germany who think it is too early to judge the efficacy of the vaccine in reducing transmission…most E.U countries that rely heavily on travel are pushing hard to open up to international travelers, including Americans, but I suspect we are still a few months away before we can definitely make a call.”
Why Americans Might Not be Able to Travel to Europe This Summer
When the pandemic first started, most of us thought it would all be over within a few weeks. This just exemplifies that accurately predicting what will happen with COVID-19 in the future is impossible.
Europe is currently struggling to contain a third-wave of COVID-19 infections, with many countries resorting back to strict lockdown policies for residents. Additionally, the news that multiple European countries have temporarily paused use of the AstraZeneca vaccine out of safety concerns, might make a summer reopening seem unrealistic.
Marianne Perez de Fransius, CEO of Bébé Voyage, warns, “If Europe falls significantly behind its vaccination targets because of lack of available doses/slow production/roll-out, they will likely prefer to keep borders closed or restricted to limit rates of infection. But if both the U.S. and Europe have a significant portion of their respective populations vaccinated ahead of summer travel season, they are likely to have a reciprocal travel agreement.”
However, Perez de Fransius also points out that the vaccines are only a good indicator of an ability to reopen travel “as long as there are not too many unpredictable mutations and that those COVID-mutations are not vaccine-resistant. With each new mutation comes a risk of a higher transmission rate, and European countries are tending towards keeping those under control.”
Tim Hudson, managing director of the tour operator Inspired Italy, agrees. “If inter-continental travel is to resume to the E.U. during 2021, it will be at the end of the summer,” says Hudson. “As of March 12, Italy is experiencing the third increase in COVID cases, as are a number of other E.U. countries. Italy currently operates on a strict lockdown where travel between regions is not permitted—you cannot travel from Umbria to Tuscany for example—an overnight curfew is in place and there are restrictions on shopping, socializing and other day-to-day activities.”
Hudson emphasizes that travel will likely reopen slowly within Europe, rather than Europe rushing to invite American tourists in, predicting, “The most likely steps will be that travel within the country will open up first, followed by travel within the Schengen Area. Some non-Schengen countries may be added to this list such as the U.K. The next move will be to open up inter-continental travel.”
Plan for Late-Summer 2021 European Travel
You’ll have the best chance of a successful summer trip to Europe if you plan on visiting in the later part of the summer. “In the U.K. the earliest the country is planning to open is 21st June. France, Spain and Italy have set similar targets, although, with the slow roll-out of the vaccine in Europe, this may be delayed”, says Whitman.
Taking a wait-and-see approach to a Europe trip this summer? Look for deals with free cancelation or change policies, so you can book now with no-risk and avoid disappointment later.
You should lock in those late-summer deals now, cautions Burn. “Customers should feel confident to book for later this summer and we’re already seeing strong demand for later in the year and into 2022—the deals that are available at the moment are great, but as soon as borders open demand will boom and we fully expect prices to be high.”
Other travel experts, like Kevin Rosenberg, owner and lead guide at International Adventure Guides, are more optimistic on Europe’s reopening timeline. “My European colleagues are telling me that they expect E.U. borders to reopen to vaccinated Americans around Easter,” says Rosenberg, and he predicts that borders will fully reopen in early June (although likely with rapid-testing restrictions upon arrival).
Even if Europe does reopen earlier than predicted, booking a late-summer trip will give tour operators and attractions time to get up to full-speed, plus allow any kinks in the process (like COVID-testing requirements) to be worked out by the time your trip rolls around.
If you don’t want to be the first wave of travelers to Europe, EF Go Ahead Tours has seen travelers requesting to be notified once the first trips to a destination depart, so that they can more confidently book their trip after a group or two has successfully gone. Heidi Durflinger, president of EF Go Ahead Tours, expresses confidence, based on their “global teams who have been preparing and continuously monitoring the travel guidelines and recommendations,” and have planned on tours happening in summer, fall, and winter 2021.
If You Do Travel to Europe This Summer
Prepare for restrictions. Even if Americans are allowed to travel to Europe this summer, it’s not going to look like pre-pandemic visits. Expect places to have limited capacity, rules about wearing face masks in public, and other public health measures to remain in place.
Plan your travel well in advance. Book restaurants, activities, flights, and transportation well much earlier than you usually would, as limited capacity may mean places fill up quickly.
Rosenberg expects to see “a surge of demand for July through September—but if folks wait until then to sign up for trips they’ll likely be left waiting for next year since supply will not be able to meet the pent-up demand. Airlines have reduced capacity…many tour operators have gone out of business over the last year or laid off their employees so it will take time to ramp up.”
If you can, limit your European vacation to one destination, and try to book nonstop flights when you can. Perez de Fransius tells travelers, “Only go to one country (rather than to try to destination-hop) and get to know that place well. Travel restrictions and lockdown orders came down pretty quickly in Europe over the past year, and anything involving connections/layovers or multiple destinations may lead to extra complications.”
Remember, each European country is likely to have its own reopening timeline and travel restrictions. Keep an eye on the U.S. State Department’s COVID-19 Traveler Information website, stay informed about news/travel policies in your destination country, and take out travel insurance or book a trip with free cancelation policies to be safe.
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