Europe hopes to lure American tourists this summer

LONDON – They have a reputation for being loud and disgusting, but with Europe reopening its borders to foreign visitors in time for the summer travel season, it is hoping American tourists will make a comeback.

The European Union signaled last week that it would ease restrictions on vaccinated travelers from outside the bloc, including the United States. The EU. Last year, the borders were closed to prevent the spread of Covid-19. However, many Member States that are heavily reliant on tourism are keen to see foreign travelers return.

International arrivals in Europe fell by 70 percent last year compared to 2019. Americans made more than 36 million trips to Europe in 2019. According to the European Travel Commission, that number fell to 6.6 million last year.

With half of American adults now fully vaccinated and US airlines increasingly expanding their flights to Europe, some Americans are considering the option of summer travel this year.

After the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hinted last month that Americans who have been fully vaccinated may be able to visit the bloc countries this summer, she is looking for E.U. Airfares from the United States rose 47 percent, according to flight analysis firm Hopper.

This month, Greece became the first major European travel destination to have welcomed foreign tourists – including Americans – back without being quarantined if they were fully vaccinated or had a negative Covid-19 test.

“Greece offers what the people need,” tweeted Greek Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis when the country reopened on May 15th.

The country has pledged to fully vaccinate the population of its 6,000 islands by the end of June.

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One of them, the famous Instagram Santorini on the Aegean Sea, is a tourist trap for Americans. They make up 60 percent of the customer base of Canaves Oia, a small chain of luxury hotels overlooking the endless blue sea and the whitewashed houses.

When asked how much he missed having Americans around, General Manager Markos Chaidemenos told NBC News with a smile, “You have no idea.”

Americans have already started booking – “big time,” he said, reserving rooms well in advance for later this summer.

Even before the E.U. Chaidemenos, 33, said the hotel’s first U.S. guests in more than a year had arrived once Greece reopened this month.

“Travel agents are overflowing with inquiries,” he added.

But other E.U. States were more cautious than Greece.

A waiter works on the terrace of the Parisian landmark Cafe de Flore.Bertrand Guay / AFP – Getty Images

Germany, where Americans are the largest overseas tourism market, has been cautious about easing lockdown measures as its 16 states only slowly lifted some restrictions last week.

Some museums are reopening with restrictions, and cafes and restaurants are reopening for al fresco dining in the hip capital of Berlin, where Americans are the most frequent foreign visitors after the British.

Tourism in the city has been badly hit, said Christian Taenzler, spokesman for Visit Berlin, the capital’s official travel guide. So the E.U. To ease travel restrictions for international travelers, he is optimistic about the summer season.

Taenzler, 59, hopes Germany’s reputation as a safe country with a strong health infrastructure and strict hygiene protocols will make it a port of call for Americans and other foreigners who are still concerned about exposure to Covid-19.

The way Americans who choose to travel to Europe this summer are set to travel is likely to change too, he said. He expects Americans to stay in one place to minimize their movement, rather than visiting several European countries in one visit.

“Destination hopping is over,” he said. “Safe targets are in.”

People take snapshots when they visit the Louvre in Paris.Thibault Camus / AP

Italy, another European destination popular with American travelers, is still officially in a state of emergency. It was one of the hardest hit in Europe in the early stages of the pandemic and has the highest death toll in the region.

Although cases and deaths are falling, curfew remains in place across the country, and bars and restaurants are only open for al fresco dining.

However, Italy has a large tourism sector that contributes 13 percent to its gross domestic product, and repatriation of foreign travelers is vital to recovery from the pandemic.

Earlier this month, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi told the world, “It’s time to book your vacation in Italy.”

The country has also expanded so-called “Covid-19-free” flights to and from some cities in the US, which allow travelers to skip the quarantine if they test negative before and after boarding the plane.

Tourists enjoy the sights in Venice, Italy.Manuel Silvestri / Reuters

Like Greece, it is working to immunize its island tourism hotspots like Capri off the Napoli coast.

Eighty percent of the island’s 14,000 residents have received the first dose of vaccine and there are no Covid-19 cases, Capri Mayor Marino Lembo said. Tourism workers who come to the island from mainland Italy are also vaccinated.

It’s part of an effort to let Americans and other overseas travelers know that Capri is safe to come to, he said.

Last year the island lost half of its tourism revenue, he added.

But after the E.U. Announcement, he looks forward to seeing American tourists lounging in Capri’s emerald waters again.

“There is a desire to return,” he said. “The Americans are at home here.”

France, the world’s leading tourism destination in 2019, is slowly emerging from its third lockdown.

The French regained some of their joie de vivre last week when the government reopened restaurant terraces and museums, including the famous Louvre. But masks are still mandatory inside and out.

Americans have been banned from traveling to France since March 2020, and the country this week blocked travelers from the United Kingdom over concerns about a new variant of coronavirus. But President Emmanuel Macron told CBS last month that he hoped Americans could travel to France again this summer.

People drive past a local cafe in the main port area of ​​Patmos, Greece.Byron Smith / Getty Images

Georges and Odette de la Rochebrochard own a restaurant near Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and rent Airbnb apartments in the heart of the French capital.

They depend on tourists, especially Americans, for a living, but the pandemic caused them to lose 80 percent of their income.

Despite the E.U. To ease the restrictions on foreign travel, they remain pessimistic about the outlook for this summer.

“It’s too late to announce that France and Europe are open to tourism this summer,” said 68-year-old Georges.

“It’s almost June and I very much doubt many Americans will book a flight and hotel to Paris on such short notice. Tourism just doesn’t work that way,” he said.

“Nobody expects normal business this year.”

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