With the summer approaching, the list of southern EU countries ready to invite foreign visitors is growing. And the number of people who want – at last – to book their trip to a coastal resort in Italy, Greece, or Spain, is growing accordingly too.
But is now the right time to get back to traveling? According to Professor Jose Antonio Lopez Guerrero, of the Department of Molecular Biology at the Autonomous University of Madrid, “It’s logical that, after a year of suffering, several countries are betting on tourism to revive their economy.”
“The situation across Europe and the level of vaccinations is more or less similar, and it is easing the reopening. Vaccination levels in Spain are progressing at a good speed, and it looks like, in a month, we will have vaccinated the majority of those over 70, the most vulnerable group,” he tells RT.
The countries depending on tourism were the main driving force behind the EU’s effort to relaunch travel. While the joint ‘green’ Covid-19 passport is expected to be ready by July 1, holidaymakers are already allowed to visit several resort countries under individual national rules, generally with a proof of either vaccination or a negative coronavirus test.
The sector couldn’t wait to be operational again, says Professor Lluis Prats Planaguma, of the Institute of Tourism Research at the University of Girona, in Spain’s Catalonia region: “All the anti-Covid protocols give the venues a possibility to reopen with safety. Numbers show there are fewer people infected and fewer hospitalized, and holiday bookings are going up.”
‘We need unified protective measures’
On Monday, May 24, Spain opened its borders to visitors from a number of countries, while tourists from the rest of the world who have received vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency or the World Health Organization will be allowed to enter from June 7. The country is among the reopening frontrunners, but not the fastest, as Portugal, Greece, and Italy started to welcome foreigners in mid-May.
“Spain is a tourist country by definition. For now, it’s losing out to those countries that chose to reopen earlier. Some of them even have a favorable Covid rating, like Portugal, for example,” Professor Lopez Guerrero says. “Greece hopes to have a massive tourist influx as well. A big wave of tourists does look like a risk, that’s true, but as I said, Europe’s virus index is not so bad.”
While the Spanish authorities paid a lot of attention to saving workplaces, “they didn’t give strong support to businesses, and not only in the tourist sector,” Professor Prats Planaguma says.
“The regional authorities tried to add to those measures, but it was still not enough. Direct payments were small, their distribution was not well organized, and some tiny and micro-businesses never received them at all. Those who managed to survive did it by saving the money they had and by renegotiating their debts. It’s crucial to have more support from the state,” he tells RT.
But despite all the losses, if there’s a risk, it’s better to wait a bit longer and reopen with more safety measures in place, Professor Prats Planaguma suggests. “We’re talking about two weeks’ difference here. It might look like a big deal, but actually, it’s not. We’ve seen that it was hard to act jointly in the EU, not only in the field of tourism. This summer, to open two weeks earlier or two weeks later won’t make any difference.”
“The border controls, negative test checking or management of coronavirus passports – this should be a joint process all over the EU territory, and individual measures should be avoided,” Professor Lopez-Guerrero adds. “We need unified protective measures.”
One may argue that the return of tourists was prompted by economic factors, rather than any perceived end to the pandemic. But, while it damaged many people’s physical health, the virus took a toll on mental health for others as well. Lockdowns, self-isolation, a semi-permanent fear for the welfare of family members and friends… It’s hard to find anyone who isn’t tired of the perpetual stress.