After an extraordinarily difficult year for all the nations across the globe, with wave after wave of the coronavirus sweeping through societies, Spring and Summer 2021 have, for many, represented a time when life might start to become normal again. And American tourists are chomping at the bit, waiting for Europe to welcome them again.
And Americans, shut out of the nations of the European Union for the most part last year, are more than ready to burst through the airport gates and make their way to their favorite European destinations.
Which EU countries appear to be the most open to welcoming American tourists back after their long exile?
American tourists keeping an eye on EU reopening
Greece, so heavily reliant on tourism, has stated that it will reopen to European tourists as of May 14 — of course, with the use of the “vaccine certificate” or “Green Pass,” signifying that the bearer has been vaccinated or is otherwise immune to the coronavirus.
Tourism Minister Harry Theocharis has laid out all the stipulations regarding the resumption of travel to the Summer hotspots of Greece. Theocharis added that “Greece is ready with a complete protocol for summer 2021.”
Greece, which is itself experiencing the dreaded fourth wave of the virus, with record numbers of citizens on ventilators at the moment, is hoping that accepting travelers will help bring the country out of the economic crisis caused by the virus.
And by accepting only those who are immune, or have recently tested negative, the thought is that no additional cases will be brought into the country.
Greece reopening May 14 to EU travelers
After a draconian lockdown lasting for a grueling five months, with periodic relaxations of the measures, the country is currently mulling a lifting of some of the restrictions before its greatest annual holiday of Easter, which will occur on May 2 this year.
Naturally, how many people will be allowed to wield the coveted vaccination certificates depends on how many have access to the vaccines.
As of today, there is an enormous discrepancy between Europeans and Americans regarding vaccination rates, with some American states having as many as 37% of their citizens vaccinated now with at least one dose. Most American states are averaging approximately a vaccination rate of 33%.
As of March 29, there have been a total of 145.81 million doses of coronavirus vaccine administered in the United States. In comparison, in the UK the statistic is 34.12 million, with Great Britain leaning on giving more people the first does and waiting to give the second dose at a later date.
Vaccine rollout will impact reopening dates
In France, a total of only 10.45 million doses have been administered. The corresponding number for Greece is 1.64 million.
The new US President, Joe Biden, has stated he wants every American adult to be vaccinated by May, and that very well may come to pass, with the lightning-fast rate of vaccinations that is now taking place.
However, the EU will only be able to reach that level of vaccination by the end of Summer 2021, at best, according to the pace of the vaccine rollout there.
Although reports say that Biden may lift the travel ban for tourists traveling to Europe, they must of course have somewhere to land.
As of today, only Iceland and Estonia are open to Americans who have been vaccinated or can prove they have immunity.
Another aspect of this dilemma is what Bloomberg described in a recent article as the “compression problem” – i.e., finding rooms that are available.
Last year’s bookings rolled over in to 2021
Many bookings that were made for last year were automatically rolled into this year, cutting into the number of available rooms at the present time.
Additionally, with European states stipulating that their own citizens cannot leave their countries for the time being, hotel rooms all over Europe are being scooped up by restless locals. Reports say that hotels are reporting 80-100% occupancy rates for Summer 2021 at the present time.
But these storm clouds may clear — and when they do they might clear very quickly, once normal international travel is allowed. The EU’s acceptance of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine itself will be a “game changer,” says Paul Tumpowsky, the founder and CEO of the luxury online travel agency Skylark.
As the fourth vaccine to be approved in Europe, Tumpowsky predicts that the widespread use of the Johnson & Johnson product will mean that “in six weeks, this whole thing is over. The world is going to shift into fourth gear — and really quickly.”
American tourists should book now — as long as prices refundable
Tumpowsky says that people who are itchy to travel right now should go ahead and book — as long as the full price is refundable.
However, it may be prudent to think about the shoulder season, especially in Greece and the other Southern European locations, where Summers are sweltering anyway.
By that time, the worst of the pandemic should be over and the EU will have vaccinated many more millions of its citizens. Experts say that the best bets right now appear to be Iceland, the U.K., (which will likely reopen on July 1), Estonia — and Greece.
It is estimated that the nations of the EU lost a total of $1 billion per month last Summer as a result of the travel ban on Americans. The region of Paris, France lost a total of $15.5 billion in tourism revenues during 2020.
The UK has experienced a very harsh third wave of the epidemic, with 126,000 deaths, resulting in another strict lockdown. Reopening is occurring gradually, with the situation to be revisited on April 5 and then again on May 17.
Fears lingering in the UK despite rapid pace of vaccine rollout
UK government officials sounded the alarm bells on March 23, saying “we are seeing this third wave rising in some parts of Europe and we’re also seeing new variants and it is very important that we protect the progress that we’ve been able to make here in the U.K.”
So although the vaccine rollout has been stellar in Great Britain by any measure, the fears are that any relaxation may result in another spike in infections, especially with such a high presence of the variant on its shores.
A leading expert in the area of epidemiology told the BBC at that time that people “should plan to holiday in the U.K. this summer,” saying that if borders were opened too early, it might mean the hard-won success of the vaccination rollout would have been all for nothing.
As of now, the U.K. government has drafted a law banning international travel before June 30, adding stiff fines for those who break the law, leading to a huge increase in domestic bookings.
UK now has freedom to make own rules
But because of the fact that the UK no longer belongs to the EU, it allows them to act freely in determining exactly to whom and when it will open its borders once again.
In the tiny North Atlantic nation of Iceland, fully-vaccinated Americans are already welcome, as it opened its gates to all citizens of any country on March 18 — provided they were fully vaccinated or could prove that they were otherwise immune to the virus.
Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the Prime Minister of Iceland, said in a statement after the reopening “the world has been through a lot in the past twelve months, and we are all hoping for a slow and safe return to normalcy.
“This also includes the resumption of the opportunity to travel, which is valuable to culture, trade and enterprise. The decision to apply border exemptions for vaccinated individuals to countries outside the EU/EEA area is a logical extension of our current policy.”
Estonia also welcoming vaccinated travelers
According to the travel publication Time Out, “travelers from anywhere in the world” can now arrive in Estonia and bypass self-isolation, if they have had one of the Covid-19 vaccination jabs.
They must have received a vaccine in the past six months — or can prove that they are immune to Covid19 after having had it. This is similar to the rules that are in place regarding the agreements between Israel and Greece and Israel and Cyprus, where a “Green Pass” system has already been agreed upon.
Greek authorities have decided to accept 10,000 vaccinated Israeli tourists per week
as part of its “Green Pass” initiative, allowing vaccinated individuals into the country as a way to kick off the Greek tourism season this Spring.
All the Israelis who will be allowed to visit Greece must show a certificate — an idea which was spearheaded by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in January — showing they have received vaccinations, have tested negative, or have antibodies against, the coronavirus.
50% of Israelis are fully vaccinated
Israel has rolled out a vaccination campaign that is second to none in the world. Currently, 5.2 million Israelis have become inoculated with the vaccines, with 55.% receiving their first dose and a whopping 50% having undergone their second dose.