Whilst there are promising signs in the right direction, the current epidemiological situation in Europe is far from certain. So whilst President Biden might have earmarked May to revoke the EU travel ban, and the EU president has advised European countries to accept vaccinated travelers this summer, many people are hedging their bets and booking up later in the season for ‘delaycations’.
So where are they booking and for when? Here’s a round up of the current situation for people looking to travel to EU destinations.
Interest in Europe is definitely heating up
As reported by The New York Times, European flight searches and bookings are increasing, reflecting future demand. Hopper is a travel-booking application that predicts flight and hotel prices and it reported that searches for round-trip European flights jumped 86% in the one-month period over March.
Unsurprisingly, interest increases as each country opens:
- Iceland saw a 93% spike in searches after announcing it would fully reopen to all vaccinated travelers (including U.S. travelers) on March 17.
- Portugal saw a 77% spike on its announcement that it hopes to open borders to the U.K. in mid-May.
- There was a 42% increase in round-trip searches from the U.S. to Greece on April 20, following its announcement on April 19 to reopen. Searches for flights to Athens have also shot up 75% since early March.
Southern Europe is leading the pack in bookings
Hopper is reporting that Lisbon and Athens are the top two booked summer 2021 European destinations, which isn’t surprising considering the announcements from both Portugal and Greece to reopen (Greece is currently one of the few EU destinations open to travelers outside the EU).
Paris, rather surprisingly is in third place, a sign of optimism considering France’s Covid-19 numbers and the fact it is still in lockdown. London is in fourth place, and one of the more likely EU destinations to open first, considering its impressive vaccine roll out and murmurings that it is looking to reopen U.S./U.K air corridors soon. Dublin and Porto are currently in fifth and sixth place.
MORE FOR YOU
Experts believe ‘summer’ will start later and run longer
Due to uncertainty, experts believe the travel season will be elongated this year, with many people taking trips later in the year, avoiding the risk or potential panic if countries don’t open up to international travelers or if they have to rapidly close down.
The Telegraph reported that U.K. holidaymakers are booking up so-called ‘delaycations’ that will run well into Autumn. Likewise, Tom Jenkins, CEO of the European Tourism Association told Travel Weekly, “I don’t see anything happening in terms of Europe as a whole [opening] before late July. There’s a possibility that July may yield something, but most people are looking at August, September.”
Bookings are following this trend of late summer
This is a picture that is being played out with bookings. The Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni–a five-star hotel on the banks of Lake Como, in northern Italy–is reporting that whilst May and June are open, they have seen a 110% uptick in bookings during the last 30 days for July to October stays, with occupancy between 70 and 95%. They are experiencing more direct bookings than usual and interest over the late summer is from the U.S., U.K. and EU countries (but not Asia or Russia–the latter used to make up a sizeable chunk of guests).
Most river cruises in European countries are on hold but a large number of cruise lines will start soon from countries which are opening up, such as Iceland (Viking and Crystal Expedition cruises) or Greece (Seabourn will sail from Athens from 3 June). Many cruise companies believe that EU passengers will be on board at the start but that they will be joined by Americans from August onwards.
A Tui holiday company spokesperson told The Telegraph that they were “seeing late summer bookings in September and October become increasingly popular with customers. Our most popular destinations are Greece, Turkey and the Spanish Islands.”
Borders may not fully reopen until October 2021
The International Air Transport Association (IATA), a group that represents 290 airlines and is comprised of industry experts around the world has postponed its annual meeting from June to October, because–as reported by Reuters–that is the month when it believes everyone will be able to travel again and borders will be fully open.
Of course, this date will be heavily dependent on the appearance of new variants of Covid-19. Many medical experts are suggesting that travelers stay closer to home for the time being. Keri Althoff, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told Condé Nast Traveler that “above all, the thing we’re really getting concerned about, of course, and continue to be concerned about, are the variants and the spread of the variants. Staying local, even within the U.S., but definitely also from a global perspective, really helps to slow down the spread of variants.”
How to do your research when booking to the EU
Firstly, keep an eye on the current travel restrictions (which are a moving feast). Tech company sherpa has a handy reopening map, providing a list of all countries open to travelers by country of origin, organized by restriction level, and detailing clearly where vaccinated travelers are able to visit.
Secondly, another way to analyze how likely a trip is to happen, is to watch the number of flights available to the preferred destination. Airlines will cater to demand and schedules will be a key indicator. In April, as reported in The New York Times, from PlaneStats, the number of Europe-bound flights to leave the U.S. was 26% of the number that departed over the same period in 2019. However, for May, that figures is expected to increase to 35%. (April and May 2020 were at 5% of 2019 departure levels).
Make sure that everything booked is protected by refunds, or at the very least, that there is the possibility of changing dates if borders do not open as planned or if they have to be closed down again quickly.
A July bounce back will make a much bigger difference
The World Tourism Organisation announced that international arrivals decreased by 85% during the first four months of 2021 compared to 2019, which amounts to a staggering 260 million international landings. So what’s clear is that the industry wants an earlier rebound than later.
If an international travel rebound happens in July, that would increase arrivals by 66% compared to 2020 (but still 55% below 2019, pre-pandemic levels). A September rebound would allow for a 22% increase compared to 2020 levels.