(CNN) – The headlines of “Plague Island” were scattered across the front pages.
With infection rates and deaths out of control exceeding 125,000, the United Kingdom is starting 2021 as Europe’s outcast for COVID-19.
Now, after a vaccination program that has seen more than a third of all adults receive at least one dose, countries across Europe, and tour operators who have struggled for the past 12 months, are flocking to themselves to welcome the weary British for their summer sun potion.
Harry Theoharis, Greece’s Tourism Minister, said at ITB Tourism’s virtual conference this week that the country will welcome anyone who has been vaccinated, and who can prove they have antibodies or present a negative PCR test.
Proclaiming, “Whatever Greece Wants,” his enthusiastic appeal launched a race for unspent insurance money for tourists that authorities across the Mediterranean hope will bolster ailing communities that have lost millions over the past year.
Spain, which attracted more than 18 million British travelers in 2019, and Portugal also said they are eager to convince the British to fly as soon as it becomes safe to do so.
There is clearly a market, too. ABTA, a UK travel trade association, says 63% of Brits hope to book a vacation abroad in 2021.
There is one annoying problem. It is still illegal to leave the UK for vacation. This week, the nation’s transportation minister, Grant Shaps, warned that it was still too early to book a foreign flight.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set May 17 as the earliest possible date to allow international travel.
Build traveler’s confidence
British vaccinated tourists will be allowed to visit Cyprus from May.
Christina Assey / AFP via Getty Images
This does not seem to prevent European countries and tour operators from making all efforts to lure visitors or tourists from booking.
Thomas Cook said it had seen a 25% increase in inquiries about the Mediterranean island of Cyprus following its announcement of plans to vaccinate travelers.
From completely flexible reservation offers, to tourism officials touting Covid’s low numbers, there is an undeniable effort to entice vacationers to book as soon as possible.
For Luis Araujo, Head of the VisitPortugal Branding Authority, it’s definitely not too early to take a vacation.
When asked whether potential tourists should wait before booking their summer vacation, he said, “They should book right away.”
“We need to build trust with tour operators and travel agents. If we don’t have the proactive response to a booking or travel request, everything will take longer to recover… What we need now is mobility.
“We need it now because every day that passes is a day that we lose.”
He said more than 25,000 people received training in 2020, with another 12,000 already trained this year.
With a rapidly declining infection rate, falling to 83.2 per 100,000, Araujo is keen to point out that Portugal is in its worst case and will soon be ready to receive tourists again.
But it’s not just about the visitors who have been vaccinated. Araujo wants anyone who can prove to be free of Covid, either by presenting a negative test or proving that they have antibodies or a vaccine, be able to visit Portugal.
“The shift has to be from thinking about” dangerous “countries to looking at people and the risks they are exposed to, he says.
“It is controlling the epidemic at the same time it is allowing people to enter the country. It is not just a country for those who are being vaccinated.
“It is important to bear in mind that people, even from high-risk countries, can enter if they have evidence that they are not infected.”
Clearer Safe Credentials for Covid
Daniel Lyall-Olivas / AFP via Getty Images
Araujo is keen to emphasize that Portugal is not in competition with other countries across Europe for vaccinated tourists.
Instead, there should be cooperation across the European Union to provide uniform safety rules to start traveling safely again.
“I think competition is about building confidence and flying planes,” he says. “It’s not about discussing whether we have five more tourists from Greece or ten fewer from Spain.”
Operators are also working to make their Covid safe credentials more visible as international travel approaches.
“We have a team dedicated to making sure our accommodations, bike and taxi providers comply with all applicable Covid rules and have appropriate safety measures, such as improved room cleaning between stays and physical distance,” says Simon Wrench of Inntravel, an operator offering walking and cycling holidays in Cyprus Spain and Slovenia.
Meanwhile, Greece is said to prioritize vaccinations for residents of 40 small islands with populations of 1,000 or less, including Haiki, Kastellorizo and Meganisi, before vaccinating people on popular tourist islands such as Mykonos and Crete.
The goal is to vaccinate as many people as possible working in the tourism industry, making it safer for them and for visitors in the process.
“We believe the recent announcement from the Tourism Minister that Greece is welcoming British tourists from mid-May and the protocols required to travel to Greece will help build consumer confidence before the summer season,” says Deemos Stasenopoulos, CEO of Epoc Group. He has properties in Santorini and Athens.
“We will introduce a number of safety measures at OMMA Santorini when it opens in May and introduce flexible cancellation policies to put our guests in mind.
“OMMA Santorini’s safety measures include temperature checks, safety kits in every room, frequent cleaning protocols according to WHO standards, and sanitized key cards.”
The green corridor of Israel
Israelis get a “green corridor” after vaccination that can be used to grant access to places and events.
Jack Juice / AFP via Getty Image
And the British are not the only ones courted by southern European tourist hotspots.
Israel has the most successful vaccine program in the world, with 4.8 million of its population of 9 million people being fully vaccinated with two doses and 80% getting at least one injection.
“For such a small country almost everyone travels by plane, so for them in particular, it’s difficult to” lock in on them “, says Andrea Bertoli, executive vice president of lm group.
In echoes similar to what is happening in the United Kingdom as the vaccine program accelerates, so is the talk [in Israel] He was about to open the sky.
“Indeed, in Israel, this is likely to be a key aspect of the Covid-19 discussions since infection rates began to decline.”
The country has entered into travel agreements with Cyprus and Greece, but plans to introduce strict rules amid concerns about importing more contagious varieties of Covid-19.
Bertoli explains that travelers will need a so-called “green passport” to prove that they have received the vaccination, with travel not permitted until 10 days after the second dose.
The high levels of vaccination in Israel also mean that it is ripe to attract visitors looking for a safe break from the COVID-19 virus.
“The success of the vaccination launch in Israel has given hope for the return of international tourism,” says Sharon E. Pershadsky, director of the Israeli government’s tourism office in the United Kingdom.
“It allows the industry to plan for the return of tourists in the not-too-distant future – making Israel not only an attractive destination, but a healthy one.”
Birshadsky is optimistic that the tourists can return “soon”. As its vaccination program nears completion, it could mean that the country is enjoying a tourism boom while others are playing catch-up.
Too early to book
Greece plans to open its borders to British travelers on May 1.
Louisa Jolyamaki / AFP via Getty Images
Although tourism boards and operators are doing their best to prove that they can safely host visitors, the fact remains that leisure travel will not be possible for at least a few weeks.
While that may change, booking at the moment is quite risky according to Rory Boland, travel editor at the consumer website who .co.uk.
“Our advice is that it’s too early to seize,” he says. “You don’t know where to go or when to go and booking at the moment exposes you to financial risks.”
Poland also points out that stories about the increase in demand don’t tell the whole story.
“Some of the headlines I’ve seen with reservations by 500% come from very low original numbers,” he says.
“Yes, there is a group of people, especially the elderly, who feel more confident about booking holidays abroad to countries that are making noise about letting people who have been vaccinated in. There are still a lot of risks associated with that.”
Poland highlights the fact that, as with the travel corridors policy that the UK government mocked in 2020, destinations are likely to end up on the “red list” while vacationing at the beach or lounging by the pool.
That could mean having to quarantine in a managed facility at their own expense, which is something that insurance will not cover.
Then there’s the added cost of the Covid tests, which are likely to be required anywhere between three or five times a trip depending on the destination. The PCR test currently costs around £ 100 ($ 139), which will increase soon if you are a family of four.
“We are calling for travel companies to be at the forefront,” Poland says. “You can’t keep the resilience promising that will cover you in all eventualities, because it won’t, not now.”
Although it may be too early to book, vaccinations appear to be the most surefire way to start traveling safely again.
“We are really optimistic that the Green Corridor agreement between individual countries, if not the Common Green Passport, will be accepted across Europe and the UK,” says Andrea Bertoli.
“While not a major boost for tourism, it does mean that we can definitely put the switch on ignition.”
Although it is unlikely that a standardized vaccine passport will be approved soon, there is no denying that those who can prove to be immune to the Covid virus will likely support the travel industry for the rest of 2021 and into 2022 as well.
The race for bookings has begun.