Travel corridors offer path to Europe’s rebound
Europe is opening up slowly to tourism, with one major thrust being the introduction of travel corridors and travel bubbles, which constitute agreements between nations with similar sanitization protocols and drops in COVID-19 infection rates.
REPORT FROM EUROPE—Confidence in a recovery is growing among European hoteliers due to lockdowns being lifted and travel corridors being established between member nations and even some non-European destinations.
A rise in international tourists at Europe’s hotels is expected to be the result of travel corridors between countries where the number of new COVID-19 cases are at similar, falling levels, and hygiene and social regulations are replicated and agreed upon.
The situation and circumstances, however, change rapidly in individual nations.
Today, France and Germany open their borders to all European nations, with a few restrictions regarding other specific European nations; and Switzerland is allowing in citizens from Austria, France and Germany, but not those from Italy, which opened its doors to everyone on 3 June.
Earlier this month at the virtual 42nd annual New York University International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference, Accor chairman and CEO Sébastien Bazin said his firm is marketing to its loyalty members, and to exactly which members depends on European country agreements to open borders to one another.
Bazin added the biggest stumbling block in Europe is the United Kingdom, which now no longer is in the European Union and is currently in complex negotiations with the EU regarding a trade deal. The continent’s largest outbound tourism market is the large population often fleeing poor weather.
Another milestone will be when U.S. visitors are allowed into Europe, sources added. Currently, only Belarus, Portugal, the Republic of Ireland and the U.K. permit tourists from the U.S.
Visiting the U.K. comes at a price, though.
On 8 June, the U.K. imposed a 14-day quarantine period for all visitors entering the country, with the exception of those from the Republic of Ireland. The rules apply to Brits, too.
Iceland also is allowing Americans to visit, but visitors need to have a COVID-19 test at the country’s international airport.
Travel corridors differ from “travel bubbles,” which are limited partner-country agreements, opening their borders to one another as of 15 May. Examples of this include agreements between the three Baltic nations—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—and between Hungary and Slovenia.
Denmark, meanwhile, is also opening up to visitors from some countries, but only those booking longer stays and who do not mind bypassing Copenhagen.
Christian Kielgast, partner at Nordic Hotel Consulting, said originally stays needed to be six days or more, but that has since been dropped to five days.
“That’s how the wind blows that day. One of the industries that yelled the loudest was vacation-home owners in the western part of Denmark, which typically fills up with Germans staying for a week and has a number of remote resorts. It is also where there are no more infections,” he said.
He added it is only a matter of time before all of Europe reopens to tourism.
“With the EU coordinating efforts moving very fast, I assume it will become difficult to remain independent,” he said, referring to any EU country that might consider staying locked down.
Knud Larsen, senior advisor at Nordic Hotel Consulting, said the decision to still ban overnight stays in Copenhagen is a little crazy as tourists intent on visiting the capital can book hotels in Tårnby, a separate municipality, and merely stroll the three miles to the city center.
Heleri Rande, partner at hotel consultancy Think Hospitality, said the Baltic travel bubble is the first of its kind in the EU.
“Given the sparse population density of all three, it was understood that by granting such freedom of movement the virus could still be kept under control. This allowed multiple cross-border businesses to restart and the tourism sector to commence its recovery as hotels and restaurants began to open across all three countries,” she said.
She added all three countries are well connected via roads linking the capitals, major towns and cultural and heritage sites.
“Multiple travel campaigns have been undertaken by all three governments to encourage intra-bubble travel. This kind of cooperation showed once again the unification of the Baltic states in times of great adversity,” Rande said.
Portugal is the only major vacation destination in Europe open to U.S. tourists with no need for tests or quarantine. Its Atlantic islands of Madeira and the Azores do require quarantines.
Gonçalo Garcia, director of hospitality in business advisory Cushman & Wakefield’s Lisbon office, said Portugal requires international travel as its internal market is not big enough to feed its hotel supply.
He said its tourism bureau has implemented the “Clean and Safe Stamp” to reassure guests, although he added it is not an accredited program but rather one in which each hotelier needs to submit a survey to state compliance with safety and security measures.
Garcia said a boost in tourism numbers is not visible yet, but that there is a slight increase in flights and the state carrier, TAP, has started a reset.
“There are different paces (of recovery) across the country. The Algarve is the market in the short term that is benefitting from a rebound. That is driven domestically, and we are in the middle of the short-break season now, last week and this, with public holidays, so we saw a few pickups,” he said.
Inland Portuguese destination resorts have been also sought out in the last weeks, he added.
“The perception here is that we have good resources and touristic products, and over the last few years it has been promoted. I do not see any tourism fundamentals being affected. COVID-19 is affecting all countries in the same way,” Garcia said.