Europe is bracing for a wave of American visitors not seen since 2019. But with a war in Ukraine and a new strain of Covid making the rounds, is it safe to go there?
The European Travel Commission (ETC), an association of national tourism organisations, predicts that travel demand this year will remain 20% below pre-pandemic levels. And while domestic travel in Europe will return to 2019 levels, he predicts international travel will be “slower to adopt” and not fully recover until 2024.
But the ETC forecast does not take into account seasonal fluctuations in visitors. If you talk to tourism officials and travelers, a different picture emerges. It’s a familiar image of tourists flocking to museums, churches and pedestrian shopping areas. If that’s correct, then this could be one of the busiest summers in Europe – unless the Ukraine conflict, a new strain of Covid or a faltering economy intervenes.
Can I travel to Europe again?
The biggest question for American vacationers is: can I travel to Europe? The answer is yes. On March 1, the EU lifted many of its Covid-19 related travel restrictions. Countries like France have dropped most of their testing and quarantine requirements. You may need to complete a few additional forms before arriving in the country, but otherwise there isn’t much red tape. No PCR tests, no quarantines. France considers the United States a “green” country, which means that its infection rate is within an acceptable range.
Before you go, check with your airline or travel agent and check out a site like Sherpa, which lists travel requirements in an easy-to-use format. But remember that the conditions can change at any time. If there’s a new variant and Europe adds new restrictions, you’ll want to know before you go.
Is it safe to travel to Europe now?
Americans considering a trip to Europe also ask questions about security. With the war in Ukraine raging, that’s a legitimate concern – until you take a look at a map. Americans tend to visit Western European destinations like London, Paris and Rome, which are thousands of miles from the conflict zone. Even Warsaw, the closest tourist destination to the war, is a ten-hour drive from kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.
A more unanswered question is whether Covid will be a problem. Currently, Covid cases are generally decreasing across Europe and barriers to entry are low. But there’s no way to predict whether another flare-up will occur. If so, it could seriously affect the number of Americans visiting Europe this summer.
Europe is ready for American tourists
The main European destinations are expecting a busy summer. At least that’s the impression one gets talking to someone like Karen Fedorko, who has been running luxury tours in Istanbul for 21 summers.
“Crazy busy,” she says when asked to describe bookings this summer. Hotels are operating at capacity and many of his tours are fully booked. Fedorko’s company, Sea Song Tours, says the biggest difference between last summer and this summer is the return of cruise ships to Istanbul after a two-year absence.
“We are seeing massive requests for shore excursions,” she adds.
Tarek Mourad, general manager of the Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul At The Bosphorus, says interest in coming to Europe is heating up over time. The number one market for his property is the United States, and typically the busiest time of year is the summer.
“This might be our best summer ever,” he says.
But it’s hard to know since travel habits have changed with the pandemic. More customers are waiting until the last minute to book their room, making it harder to get an on-demand reading. And there is also the war in Ukraine, which affects the number of customers coming from Eastern Europe.
How to strike a deal for Europe this summer
American travelers are the most sensitive to price increases. Despite the fact that they postponed their bucket list vacation for two years, they are still hesitant to book early.
But there is still business to be done. Ralph Radke, general manager of the Çirağan Palace Kempinski hotel in Istanbul, says the level of uncertainty has forced his hotel to make adjustments as the summer vacation season approaches.
“We need to keep our rates dynamic,” he says. This means that if you’re planning on seeing a popular destination in Europe, you might see fluctuations – up or down – in hotel prices as Memorial Day approaches, with some opportunities for deals.
There is a similar dynamic when it comes to airfares. While domestic air travel has almost fully recovered to 2019 levels, international demand has lagged. According to a Morning Consult survey, only about a third of Americans say they are comfortable traveling abroad. This is more than double the proportion at the start of January, but still well below pre-pandemic levels.
Airfare app Hopper predicts international airfares will match 2019 prices through next month before hitting an average of $940 round-trip in June. That’s a 15% increase from last month.
Yet many travelers seem to be waiting until the last minute to book their international trips. Strategies for finding an agreement have also changed.
Do not wait the last minute. It was a favorite strategy of American bargain hunters, especially during the pandemic. And that can work, but based on current booking patterns, it can backfire dramatically, dooming you to another stay. Now is the time to book if you can find a reasonable price on a flight, hotel, and excursion.
Consider travel insurance. Dealing with the uncertainties of travel is something best left to travel insurance. If you’re heading to Europe, consider a ‘cancellation for any reason’ policy, which allows you to recoup between 50% and 75% of the cost of your prepaid, non-refundable expenses.
Go further. Consider a European destination off the beaten track. London, Paris and Rome could operate at full capacity. But alternative cities like Nice or Milan – especially outside of the hyper-busy August holiday period – could still have lower availability and fares, experts say.
Summer trips to Europe: what’s next?
It’s unclear whether Americans will flock to Europe as they did before the pandemic. Radke, the general manager of the Kempinski Hotel, agrees that key to the outlook for summer travel in Europe will be the return of cruise ships. In a port city like Istanbul, ships provide a steady stream of business for luxury hotels like his. Guests come to places like the Ciragan Palace Kempinski to stay a day or two before a tour or for a special meal while their ship is docked in Istanbul.
For cities that aren’t cruise ports, summer might play out differently and might offer a few more deals — and that would be good for undecided travelers.
But the outcome may also depend on factors beyond the control of the tourism industry. Will the war in Ukraine continue and perhaps spread to other countries? This could put a damper on European tourism, even if the dispute is far from popular destinations. And, of course, if another Covid wave emerges, all bets are off.
For now, though, none of that seems to be on the horizon. And so, as they say in the cruise industry, it’s full speed ahead.