I just returned from visiting family and friends in Germany, my first time in Europe since before the pandemic began. During my travels, I saw personally how COVID restrictions across Europe have become complex, vary on incidence levels across countries, and change from day to day.
As a result, travel desire is building, and people are finding ideas by searching online and via word of mouth. But bookings won’t happen on a large scale until we see restrictions lifted. Confusion and confidence are key drivers in the decision to book—rather than just dream about—travel.
Nevertheless, some people are finding ways to make leisure travel happen now. It had been too long since I had see my family, so I committed to getting vaccinated and undergoing three COVID tests before arriving in Germany and three more during my time there. I wore a mask for a 10-hour flight and for many more hours during layovers. I stayed with family members, so I didn’t have to worry about hotels being closed. I speak the language and my family knew the rules I needed to follow, but it was still confusing and intimidating at times. Other travelers have even more resources they can employ, such as paying tour operators to set up vaccines en route to Dubai and Moscow or identifying except destinations for Germans, such as the UAE and Seychelles.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Though flying wasn’t much fun and the process of proving negative COVID tests to airlines was a little finicky, I did see that airlines were managing this pandemic professionally. I expect testing at airports—which only takes 15-20 minutes or can be uploaded with your online checkin—remaining the norm for the foreseeable future. I see the ease of in-airport COVID testing as an early sign of leisure and business travel resuming.
One question still remains: vaccine passes. It remains a challenge to predict how various countries (or states within countries) can agree on how to go about developing and requiring documentation like this.
For now, here’s what you can do as a destination: Trust that the areas that will come back the quickest are those where people feel safe. Simply due to space capacity, there is a real opportunity to combine peaceful and safe travel with sustainable and uncrowded tourism. This is our door into combatting overtourism, and those who take it will establish improved experiences for visitors, locals, and nature. For example, embrace RV and camping travelers—this is a trend that won’t go away soon. Travel desire among Europeans is building, and you have time to prepare for when the gates open … if you start soon.