Editor's Note: The COVID-19 policies and procedures listed below are up-to-date as of press time. However, we encourage all readers to head to each individual country’s governmental tourism website prior to travel to confirm the information regarding entry protocols.
The European Union is now officially encouraging all of its 27 member countries to welcome back U.S. leisure travelers.
On June 18, EU officials formally ratified a recommendation that the U.S. be added to a list of countries for which member nations should gradually lift restrictions on nonessential travel.
The move is non-binding, however, and each national government still holds authority over its own border safety protocols and testing requirements. So, for now, travel sellers hoping for a uniform set of COVID-19 entry rules for all of Europe are out of luck.
Even so, the ratification was applauded by many tourism stakeholders, including Virginia Messina, senior vice president of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).
“Reopening pathways for tourism and business between countries within the EU and the U.S. is a significant step in providing a much-needed boost to the economy,” Messina said in a statement. “The time is now to begin to lift restrictions safely and sustainably. Travel and tourism is responsible for millions of jobs and livelihoods.”
EU leadership is continuing to encourage each of its members to require all arriving travelers to provide proof of a negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before their departure — whether they have been fully vaccinated or not — according to the EU Council’s website.
But the U.S.’s now official inclusion on the EU’s nonessential travel list — which officials say they’ll reevaluate every two weeks — does mean that non-vaccinated Americans have been approved to vacation in Europe, provided they can show evidence of a negative COVID-19 test.
Eben Peck, executive vice president of advocacy for the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA), also praised the EU’s recent action, but was quick to suggest some important next steps.
“As welcome as this announcement is, more action is needed to speed the industry’s recovery, including exempting vaccinated Americans from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC)] rule requiring Americans returning from overseas to test negative for COVID-19 before boarding their return flight,” Peck said in a statement.
As welcome as this announcement is, more action is needed to speed the industry’s recovery.
He also urged U.S. officials to reciprocate the EU’s action “by loosening our country’s inbound travel restrictions,” and called on the American government to “support work on interoperable systems to establish vaccination, immunity or a negative test result.”
Peter Vlitas, senior vice president of airline relations for Internova Travel Group, is another fan of the EU’s recent move, and he agreed that it’s now time for U.S. officials to loosen entry restrictions for Europeans.
“If the U.S. government is concerned about the Delta variant, then only allow those who have been fully vaccinated to come to the United States, which is going to be the majority of the travelers anyway,” Vlitas said. “We don’t have to open up right away to everyone, but let’s open up.”
Are Americans Confident Enough to Vacation in Europe This Summer?
While it’s welcome news for many in the travel industry, the EU’s decision to add the U.S. to its sanctioned nonessential travel list does little to clarify the persistent confusion among many Americans about what is actually required to avoid quarantine in the growing list of European countries reopening to U.S. visitors.
Still, Internova’s Vlitas said his company has already seen demand for Europe spike in the last month, and he expects the EU’s recent news to spur even more bookings to the region this summer and later this year.
And folks in search of deals to Europe may already be out of luck, according to Vlitas.
“Those who booked in May got the best savings,” he explained. “Those who wait for July and August, they’re going to have sticker shock because the fares and the values are going to be gone. There is a tremendous movement of Americans to travel internationally.”
Ted Blank, the host agency manager at Minneapolis-based Travel Leaders’ Market Square Travel, agreed that there has been tremendous interest in Europe, but he said the bulk of that business isn’t being booked for travel this summer.
“We’re getting a steady stream of inquiries for travel this year to Europe, and off-the-charts interest in travel to Europe for next year,” Blank said.
There’s just so much uncertainty that it’s difficult to plan this close in.
“There’s just so much uncertainty that it’s difficult to plan this close in,” he added. “Most people who go to Europe go for 10 days, two weeks, three weeks — and that’s hard to do at the drop of the hat for a lot of people. Even today, there’s uncertainty about whether at the end of next week the restrictions will be gone or whether they’ll still kind of linger out there a bit. And that uncertainty has run right into the high season for travel.”
Like Vlitas, Blank said he figured news about the EU’s most recent decision would lead to a substantial increase in bookings. But he doesn’t think there will be a dramatic surge for trips this summer.
“I think if the announcement that Europe is open to Americans gets a lot of attention in the press, that will definitely get people interested in booking trips,” he said. “But I think it’s just too late for this year at this point, and they’ll be looking to go in 2022. If this happened in April, we might be having a different conversation.”