The EU’s decision to take the United States off its approved travel list, just months after it was included, has upset the travel industry — but it doesn’t bring transatlantic travel to a crashing halt.
EU countries agreed to take the U.S. off the list Monday, in a decision that also saw Israel, Kosovo, Lebanon, Montenegro and North Macedonia dropped.
The move means U.S. travelers could once again face restrictions on nonessential trips to Europe, although countries can lift that ban for fully vaccinated tourists.
The “decisive” factor was a surge in coronavirus cases in the U.S., an EU diplomat said. The country, which is dealing with a daily average of 155,000 newly reported infections, had previously been placed on a “watch list” as a result of climbing case numbers, according to two diplomats.
The EU last year recommended that countries put a temporary stop on nonessential trips from outside the EU, arguing that a coordinated approach was crucial in convincing governments to lift travel restrictions within the bloc.
Its list of non-EU countries from which travel is nonetheless considered safe is updated every two weeks, based on an assessment of criteria such as the countries’ health status, their approach to the pandemic, the trustworthiness of their data and their willingness to reciprocate.
Because the EU’s recommendation is nonbinding, the impact of the decision to remove the U.S. from the list will depend on whether individual countries choose to follow it — something that is not yet clear.
It’s in countries’ interest — and that of the EU’s free-travel zone — that they follow EU travel measures, for the sake of coherence, but “it is, and remains, a recommendation,” one EU diplomat said.
Croatia, for instance, has taken a more liberal approach to travel from outside the EU, allowing third-country nationals traveling for tourist reasons to enter with a negative test or proof of vaccination or recovery.
Mato Franković, the mayor of Dubrovnik, said in an interview earlier this month: “You see that things are pretty much under control … even if we have really a lot of people now in all destinations throughout Croatia.”
For the travel industry, the decision spells trouble.
The decision “is extremely disappointing for Europe’s airlines and our ailing tourism sector,” Jennifer Janzen, of airline lobby group A4E, said Monday, arguing that “with the spread of the Delta variant in communities on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s clear that air travel is not the source.”
The recommendation is “bad news” for travel agents, too, Eric Drésin, secretary-general of industry group ECTAA, said. Besides expected business losses, which risk “further fragilizing the companies,” the decision “shows that we are still in the midst of the pandemic,” he said, warning that it would be a blow to people’s confidence that they can travel safely.
Both called on U.S. and EU decision-makers to lift restrictions for travelers who got vaccinated, tested, or who have recovered from the virus.
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