People in Glasshouses……
by Ed Finn
Stir crazy europeans have been promised safe and clean summer travels this year as borders reopen for tourism. The EU has this week unveiled a blueprint for travel to return across the continent.
The Italian government announced this Friday that they will allow travel both in and out of the country starting on June 3rd. According to the decree approved by Italy’s Cabinet, restrictions will also be lifted on domestic travel allowing residents to freely travel from region to region. Restrictions on domestic travel will end earlier on May 18th, with the caveat however that state governments can curb travel in certain areas if there is an increase in new infections. Despite pressure from certain quarters, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has opted for a gradual rollback of restrictions to avoid a second wave.
Current restrictions will remain in place until after Italy’s Republic Day holiday on June 2nd to prevent mass travel that weekend. This will be warmly welcomed by all Italians and airlines flying to Italy. Also great news for Tour Operators and agencies selling Italy here in Ireland. I had one of my most memorable holidays in Riva del Garda a few years ago, there is something entirely magical about Lake Garda and being surrounded by the majestic Dolomites. The name Garda is the evolution of the Germanic word warda, meaning “place of guard” or “place of observation”.
I think we will see things develop quite fast over the coming weeks and months. From the 1st of June, Lufthansa, Eurowings and SWISS will resume services from Dublin to Frankfurt, Zurich, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Stuttgart and Cologne and will increase frequencies from London Heathrow. Expanding the current schedule from 23 to 63 weekly departures, these new connections mark the start of the Lufthansa Group Airlines reinstatement of schedules to 130 destinations by the end of June. My moles in the industry tell me that other airlines will follow suit.
Portugal is moving fast with its Safe & Clean campaign and the Canaries are running a special Covid 19 free passport flight in July to Santa Cruz. Of course the Canaries has been one of the regions with very few cases of the virus compared to mainland Spain. Other countries like Finland and Iceland have also reported very low cases of infection which leads me to believe that Finland, like Iceland, will also be lifting restrictions in the coming months.
It goes without saying that strict hygiene and safety precautions for travellers are a key factor in the the push to fully unlock borders ahead of this summer season. Europe’s external border closure and travel ban on foreigners will remain in place until at least mid-June but Europeans can look forward to growing travel freedom over the coming weeks.
The EU is leaving the decisions on this to each individual country regarding lifting travel bans on fellow member states. We will be seeing a lot of “travel bubbles” between neighbours over the coming weeks, the Baltics’ are an example of this. Germany and Austria reopened their common borders this week which again was a big move for tourism between these two countries. We will all be enjoying ‘Beethoven 2020 and the Sound of Music themed holidays this summer! We are all acutely aware that we won’t be enjoying a ‘normal holiday’ this year but what the hell…. remember that old cliché…. it’s not the destination it’s the journey! For lockdown-weary Europeans, it may be possible to still enjoy quite a pleasant holiday anyway. More importantly, it will also provide much needed employment for thousands of people working in the hospitality sector.
Georgia on our Minds
By Isabel Conway
Georgia, tipped by international travel media as a fascinating destination, is striving to become the first European country to open its doors to foreign tourists after months of ongoing strict lockdown. The ancient country, stretching from the sub-tropical Black sea to the wildlife rich Carpathian alpine highlands has reported only nine deaths from COVID-19 which are, among the lowest in Europe.
The country’s success in combatting the pandemic has fuelled hopes of an early comeback. Known as the cradle of wine making, the capital Tbilisi was an important stop off on the famous Silk Road, reflected in bazaars, museums and monuments. Georgia is also renowned for good food, ‘off the beaten track ’adventures and eco- friendly tourism.
Most shops in the capital have re-opened as part of a gradual easing of coronavirus restrictions. The Georgian Prime-Minister Giorgi Gakharia has promised to free businesses in the tourism sector from paying property taxes in 2020 and to grant loan aid to hotels who have invested heavily in building up tourism. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has acknowledged that Georgia has taken “very prudent and successful steps” aimed at becoming the first country in the world to re-open its tourism industry internationally.
Saying “Ciao” to Sicily
by Isabel Conway
Sicily is so desperate to kick start its devastated tourism industry that once lockdown and restrictions on travel are lifted the Island aims to lure back foreign tourists by coughing up fifty per cent of our airfares.
The regional government that lost a reported €1 billion in tourism revenue in recent months has established a war chest of €50 million to entice travellers to return to one of Europe’s leading holiday destinations, renowned for its romantic beaches, dramatic scenery and great food.
One in every three of visitors hotel nights will be complimentary thanks to a proposed voucher system, details of which will be available on the island’s tourism website (www.visitsicily.info) And to woo the tourists the Island has also pledged to waive all fees to museums and historic sites.
Will Greece be Ready?
by Isabel Conway
Greece could be one of the first countries that welcomes tourists back once the Covid-19 pandemic has been combatted says the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). The country’s government must be applauded for its “incredibly swift response” which saw restrictions in place before the arrival of the corona virus, it says. A swift recovery is now essential due to the nation’s strong reliance on tourism.
On May 10 health authorities announced zero new deaths and six new confirmed infections bringing the death toll of over 150 in the country of almost ten and a half million. By enforcing a strict early lockdown, the country managed to keep deaths incredibly low. Some businesses including hairdressers and book stores are open in addition to supermarkets and takeaways.
A heatwave was predicted to hit Greece with temperatures expected to exceed an unseasonal 35o C in central and southern parts of the country by mid- May. But access to all organized beaches and flea markets remain out of bounds. And there are little signs either of bars or cafes opening at tourism locations for now.
Greece plans to re-open to international tourists for post lockdown holidays on its sun-soaked uncrowded island destinations from early July. Details of protocols for social distancing on beaches and in hotels and restaurants have still to be worked out.
Cyprus pitching recovery hopes on autumn
by Isabel Conway
Cyprus is pinning its hopes on some kind of a tourism season once international air traffic opens up again. But realistically the island is more hopeful of a comeback later with key markets the UK and Russia not returning before September. The island’s long sunny autumn season will be to its advantage also when other Med locations are cooling off.
The island’s Tourism Minister Savvas Perdios said there are positive signs from Nordic countries and also from Israel and Germany. Cyprus travel agents are hopeful that part of the summer can be salvaged as most bookings for late summer have not yet been cancelled.
But flights accessibility remains the biggest headache for now. Hotel owners are less upbeat too knowing that big changes are coming and their businesses must radically change to adapt to the new social distancing, strict hygiene guidelines and other conditions.
Inspired by Iceland
by Isabel Conway
Nordic countries are gearing up to re-open to tourism in time for visitors to enjoy their spectacular midnight sun. Sigga Dogg Guomundsdottir, head of Visit Iceland (www.inspiredbyiceland.com) believes , Europe’s least populated country (population of Iceland 364,000) one and a half times larger than Ireland, is well poised to take advantage of ‘the new normal’. “We have championed responsible travel and that is what many travellers will be looking for; Iceland has so much space and slow travel, wildlife and soft adventure are our unique selling points”.
With only 10 deaths so far from the Coronavirus out of a total of 1,801 cases, Iceland has been commended for getting to grips with the pandemic ever before it reached the country by introducing social distancing, testing and contact tracing.
For now, like many other countries the 14- day quarantine on all arrivals requiring travellers to self-isolate remains. “But Iceland is looking at easing restrictions in a responsible way and we believe there will be tourists visiting Iceland from July, once it is safe to travel again”. A spectacular new 950km long ring road will open up the least discovered area of Iceland – the Westfjords – from September to travellers. It is the ideal adventure, Sigga says, tailor made for our ‘new normal’ world of travel.