American Tourists Can’t Save Greece, Spain and Italy

It’s the American Dream for Europe’s troubled tourism sector. On Sunday European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told the New York Times that fully vaccinated American tourists could visit the bloc this summer.

But the U.S. accounts for a tiny proportion of travelers to tourist-dependent countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy. To prevent another lost holiday season for these nations, a full reopening of intra-European travel is needed. And that still looks some ways off.

The prospect of U.S tourists coming to Europe is certainly a step in the right direction. Americans have been eager to travel again, and domestic summer rentals have been booking up fast. Some people might now be tempted to swap their Cape Cod getaway for a trip to Capri. American travelers would be a boon to the continent’s local economies and to international hotel groups, such as Marriott International Inc., InterContinental Hotels Group Plc and Accor SA.

American Tourists Can’t Save Greece, Spain and Italy

A restoration of transatlantic flying would also help airlines like Virgin Atlantic and British Airways (part of International Consolidated Airlines Group SA). Not only does this account for a large chunk of legacy carriers’ capacity, but flights between Europe and North America are also very profitable. The plunge in long-haul flying is one reason why shares of IAG, Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Air France-KLM have lagged behind those of low-cost short-hop specialists like Ryanair Holdings Plc.

And yet, it’s not clear how many Americans will actually want, or indeed be able, to travel to Europe. Last week, the U.S. State Department issued “Do Not Travel” advisories for about 80% of the world’s nations, including many in Europe.

The biggest problem for the bloc, however, is that the majority of tourists to France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain during their peak summer seasons come from other western European countries, according to Richard Clarke, an analyst at Bernstein. Americans are more likely to book vacations to closer Caribbean resorts than to Mediterranean destinations.

American Tourists Can’t Save Greece, Spain and Italy

For European tourism to truly recover, restrictions need to be lifted in the countries that are big exporters of summer sun-seekers, such as Britain and Germany.

The U.K. has announced a traffic-light system, with Brits able to travel to “green” countries without the need to quarantine upon their return. Arrivals from higher-risk areas designated “amber” and “red” will be subject to more stringent restrictions. The government is expected to announce further details next week, and this may open up international travel from May 17. But the details will matter: Countries on the amber list would still be inconvenient and expensive for many families, as arrivals would have to quarantine for 10 days and take multiple Covid tests.

Germany has no outright travel ban, but the situation isn’t clear cut either. For example, although Germans can still visit the island of Mallorca, they are discouraged from holidaying in Greece. Consequently, some countries are taking matters into their own hands. Greece will fully open up to tourism for those who have been vaccinated, or have recently tested negative for the virus, from the middle of May.

Of course, this tentative unlocking could be undone by new Covid variants and measures to prevent new waves of infections from countries such as India. U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock last month raised the possibility of Brits needing a third dose of vaccines, to protect against new strains, before being able to travel internationally. Such a plan would stop the rapidly approaching travel season in its tracks.

It may be a rare glimmer of hope, but an American vacation invasion won’t be enough to save the European summer.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Andrea Felsted is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering the consumer and retail industries. She previously worked at the Financial Times.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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