People view the archaeological site of Hadrian's Library in Athens on June 4. (Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP via Getty Images)

As Countries Reopen Borders, Unclear Whether Tourists Will Come

Experts say traveling is definitely on people’s agendas, but timing depends on comfort, safety

In a demonstration of the pitfalls of allowing for the gradual resumption of international travel and tourism, Greece on Tuesday suspended flights to and from Qatar after 12 passengers on a plane from Doha to Athens tested positive for the coronavirus.

The announcement came mere days after the Mediterranean nation listed 29 countries that, starting June 15, would be permitted to fly directly to Athens and the northern city of Thessaloniki. The Greek Tourism Ministry said during Friday’s announcement that more countries would be added on July 1.

Travel experts say that safety and comfort, guided by the latest scientific information relating to COVID-19, will dictate how quickly the tourism industry rebounds.

So-called travel bubbles or coronavirus corridors are a way to ease travelers back into being comfortable crossing borders, Hemant Mediratta, a hospitality consultant and founder of One Rep Global, told The Media Line.

“Once you initiate travel in bubbles, it sensitizes travelers, and they then take the next holiday,” Mediratta said.

He cautioned, however, that expanding travel options would be contingent upon the sense that health will be protected.

“The travel corridor is aspirational,” Mediratta said. “People will start traveling in the ‘new normal,’ with adequate hygiene and safety measures in place.”

The fourth and most recent UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) report on COVID-19 travel restrictions found that as of May 18, seven out of 217 global destinations had eased coronavirus-related travel restrictions for international tourism.

However, all still had some constraints in place, including 163 with zero-entry policies for international tourism – 69% of Middle Eastern destinations, and 74% of destinations in Africa.

There appears to be pent-up demand for traveling and tourism. A recent survey of American adults over the age of 18 found that nearly 58% would be comfortable traveling in the next six months.

Don Welsh, president and CEO of Destinations International, told The Media Line that travel and vacation were back on the agenda for many.

“When medical and scientific information gets a bit more conclusive and there’s a belief that a vaccine is on the horizon, I think there will be a continued level of interest in the number of people that are going to travel,” he stated.

Venturing out of the house to sit down at a local restaurant will be the first step that many people take, according to Welsh, followed by regional, then national, then international trips.

Mediratta concurs.

“Travel will start in concentric circles – around home-base first, followed by driving-distance holidays, followed by air travel,” he said.

The distance between Tel Aviv and Athens in flying kilometers is 1,201, or 746 miles, which is a bit outside the 500-mile range that many people are willing to travel at this point, according to Welsh.

“We are beginning to see that car travel is going to be the key driver in a lot of places around the world,” he noted.

Ultimately, the decision to board a flight to another country for tourism is a personal decision.

“It gets back to when people have that comfort level that they can travel, and do it with relative safety, [that] they are going to do it. If not, they won’t go,” Welsh said. “It’s coming down to that simplicity. People feel good, they will go. If not, they won’t.”

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