ROME, Italy, Jun 15 – After anxious months confined at home, eager Europeans are digging out their suitcases, sunscreen and flipflops, and daring to plan a post-coronavirus summer holiday.
With restrictions being lifted and the tourism industry up against the wall, the European Union has set out plans to reopen its internal borders on Monday.
But even if travel within much of the EU is permitted, many Europeans are expected to stay put and take holidays in their own countries this year.
From Spain and Italy, to France, Greece and Britain, the picture of what holidaymakers in search of sun, sea or culture can expect, remains very mixed.
Une Staycation? –
In France, the world’s number one tourist destination, the government is banking on the French staying in the country for their holidays, to help kickstart the key tourism sector.
To hammer home the message and remind the French what’s on offer at home, it is about to launch a #CetetejevisitelaFrance campaign, meaning This summer I’m visiting France.
Many seem to have already heeded the call.
According to the head of France’s Entreprises du Voyage association, which represents sectors of the travel industry, just 20 percent of summer bookings in travel agencies so far are for trips abroad, compared to 66 percent normally.
With just over 90 million visitors from abroad last year, France has backed the resumption of quarantine-free travel within the EU from Monday.
But says it will apply reciprocal measures if other countries impose quarantine requirements for French citizens.
Paris, Europe’s most visited city, has gradually begun coming back to life, with cafe terraces open again.
The Eiffel Tower reopens on June 25, albeit with limits on the numbers of visitors, who will only at first be able to go up the monument by the stairs, among other restrictions.
The enigmatic Mona Lisa and other artworks will again be on view at the Louvre from July 6.
What’s fiesta in German? –
Spain’s borders will remain closed Monday as it goes through the final stages of rolling back one of the strictest lockdowns in the world — although German tourists will be allowed to visit the Balearic Islands as part of a pilot project.
So, for a few more weeks, Spaniards have their tourist sites to themselves.
But, from July 1, the likes of Barcelona’s monumental Sagrada Familia or the ancient Alhambra in Granada will reopen to foreign visitors.
Madrid has set that target date for the opening of its borders, the resumption of international tourism, as well as ending quarantine for arrivals.
With tourism accounting for 12 percent of GDP, it’s hard to imagine a summer season in Spain without its foreign visitors.
Masks will remain compulsory in public and closed spaces until the virus is defeated, authorities have warned.
In the meantime, Ibiza’s lively nightlife gets a boost.
Spain’s Balearic Islands, which also include Mallorca and Menorca, will be allowed to welcome almost 11,000 German tourists during the second half of June under the pilot project.
Travellers will have their temperature taken on arrival under the scheme, which will be conducted according to “strict health guidelines”, the region has said.
Welcome to… quarantine –
Britain is not strictly speaking affected by Monday’s reopening since it didn’t close its borders in the first place.
However, it has imposed a 14-day quarantine on all arrivals from abroad, including British nationals, to avoid new COVID-19 cases entering the country, which has the highest death toll in Europe.
The move is likely to hit international tourism, with Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and other hotspots unlikely to see foreign tourists flocking to them while most people arriving from overseas are required to self-isolate for a fortnight.
On the other hand, to enable Brits to head to sunnier climes, the government has said it is looking at establishing “air bridges” with countries with low rates of the virus.
The move calls for bilateral agreements with individual countries but would get around the quarantine requirement.
Even without the controversial measure, travel to Britain remains tricky, with hotel bookings and rentals still off the cards, unless for business reasons.
Restaurants and tourist attractions are also still shuttered.
Roman holiday –
Benvenuti in Italia! is the catchword in Italy, which was the first European country to be hit hard by the coronavirus.
Three months after going into lockdown, but keen to turn a page and revive its key tourism sector, Italy reopened to travellers from Europe on June 3.
In fact, many of its world renowned historic sites and monuments have been reopening since May, including Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and Rome’s Colosseum.
But, just like Venice’s canals where gondolas await punters, the landmarks currently remain quiet, with low numbers of mostly Italian visitors.
With tourism making up 13 percent of GDP, authorities are keen to push the Italy brand.
Nevertheless, foreign tourists, gelato in hand as they meander along Rome’s streets taking in the sights, remain few and far between.
Switzerland and Austria have only agreed in recent days to reopen their borders with northern Italy, a significant move due to the alpine Brenner Pass on the Austrian-Italian border which is a major axis for traffic between northern and southern Europe, especially for German tourists.
Sorry, the buffet is closed –
From Monday, whether you’re visiting from Germany, Switzerland or Albania, the Acropolis and the turquoise waters of the Greek islands are back on the itinerary.
Greece plans to reopen its borders to the majority of European tourists, as well as those from certain other parts of the world, including Australia, Japan and New Zealand.
However, anyone from a region particularly badly hit by the virus will have to undergo mandatory tests and spend their first night on Greek soil in a designated hotel.
These include the Paris region, Madrid and Italy’s northern Lombardy region, among others.
Greece’s two main airports in Athens and Thessaloniki will reopen to arrivals from 29 countries from Monday, the start of the tourist season.
For those headed to the beaches of Corfu or Crete for instance, a domestic flight or boat will have to be the order of the day.
Sea connections with Italy and land borders with the Balkans are also to reopen on Monday.
Across the country, tourists will have access to all of Greece’s tourist gems, including archaeological sites and museums, with systems in place to filter visitors at the entrance.
While open-air cinemas, nightclubs and tavernas are already open, and parasols and beach towels will have to be kept well spaced out on the sand, there is one downside — buffets are off the menu in hotels.