PARIS – American travel warnings have been hitting American tourist attractions for long as it hurts, with some dollar-dependent calling their situation desperate.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week advised Americans to avoid travel to France, Portugal and many other European destinations, as well as to Jordan and Tanzania, citing concern over high rates of Covid-19. These destinations now join more than 70 other countries in the “Tier 4: Very High” list, which also includes Germany, the United Kingdom and Denmark.
In Europe as a whole, the number of US arrivals has fallen from more than 36 million in 2019 to Only 7 million in 2021, according to the European Travel Commission, a non-profit group that promotes Europe as a tourist destination. Arrivals in Western Europe have fallen this year by 80% compared to 2019.
“Desperation is a word we hear from travel entrepreneurs,” said Eduardo Santander, Executive Director of the European Travel Commission.
“They thought they would be fine and now it starts again. The impact of Americans not coming to Europe can have a huge impact on the incomes of many destinations.”
In Paris, the familiar long lines outside major museums and the Eiffel Tower have dwindled dramatically since the pandemic, and crossing sidewalks in the capital has become easier. Restaurants that used to be filled with cacophony of various languages are now largely frequented by French speakers.
English, which was in common use in the city, is rarely heard.
For Steve Calvo, founder of American in Paris Tours, Monday’s advice for France came just as tourists began returning.
“Christmas is the height of the high season for me,” he said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “Since last night, I’ve had phone calls and emails asking me to cancel hotels or visits or postpone tours. Americans are starting to really travel to France again, but now they’re afraid that if something happens on a trip they won’t be protected.”
In the year before the pandemic, American visitors made up nearly 10 percent of the 38.5 million tourists to Paris, according to the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau. Arrivals from North America in the capital are now expected to decline by approximately 56% for 2021 compared to 2019.
“Americans are big travelers and big spenders,” said Marcello Risi, director of communications for the United Nations World Tourism Organization. “I was in Lisbon, Portugal, for a long weekend recently and it was full of Americans. In Madrid, where we are headquartered, American tourists are number one. The new consultancy is a blow to markets that have long-standing relationships with the United States and the foreign market.”
Countries like the United States have put in place travel restrictions and guidelines since the pandemic began. The European Union recommended in June that its member states lift restrictions on incoming American travelers, although it took until November for the United States to lift restrictions on visitors from a number of European countries.
For Americans who travel abroad, the CDC classifies travel recommendations for countries into four categories, with level 4 being the highest.
Travel companies and international organizations have criticized many of the travel measures implemented by countries since the pandemic began.
The World Health Organization has issued guidelines encouraging countries to take an “evidence-based and risk-based approach when implementing travel measures,” and said a blanket travel ban would not prevent the international spread of Covid-19.
That’s guidance that Peter Pirantonakis, director of TripUSAFrance, based in Arlington, Virginia, agrees with. Founded six years ago, its tourism business focusing on small tours to France was just beginning to boom when the pandemic hit. As recovery begins this year, came the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advice on France.
“It has been very difficult and these travel advisories have struck a chord with me because I don’t see the point of bringing these things up when we have the same problem in our country,” he said.
Tour operators such as Calvo and Pirantonakis make an effort to point out that the vaccination rate in France is high and that the health safety measures taken there are robust and often higher than those taken in parts of the United States.
“The Americans arrived and were surprised by how well the French were organized and how well they respected sanitary rules and wore masks,” Calvo said.
As governments monitor how the omicron variable will affect public health, tourism groups are pushing countries to work together and come up with common travel solutions until the industry begins to recover.
“The tourism industry is fragile, and we cannot extend this pain any longer,” Santander said.