The First Signs of Travel’s Return?
Covid-19 has upended daily life in much of the world for so long that the idea of traveling to another country or state seems like the stuff of dreams. But in the last week or so, as the idea of opening up to travelers has gained traction, some countries are taking concrete steps. Yesterday, Australia announced a three-stage plan to reopen the economy, which includes a focus on tourism. And some countries are forming regional alliances designed to minimize the risk of the virus, including an Australia-New Zealand travel “bubble,” and, in Europe, a travel “corridor” shared by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
But for many places, international flights carrying leisure travelers remain on hold or are banned outright, and the process of reopening remains speculative. The focus, instead, is on internal tourism, to be followed at some point by foreign tourism.
Here is a look at 10 top tourist destinations and the beginnings of their plans for reopening in the weeks and months ahead.
Australia and New Zealand
On May 8, Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia announced a three-step plan for reopening, in which the country will gradually take steps to resume normal life. The third and final step of that plan includes the trans-Tasman “bubble,” which will eventually allow for travel between Australia and New Zealand. The alliance, in addition to geographic proximity, stems from their similarly successful handling of Covid-19 — both countries continued to report low total case numbers, deaths and growth rates (New Zealand has declared the coronavirus “eliminated,” meaning the small number of new cases can all be tracked and traced).
Is there an opening date? On May 7, Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, announced the possibility of reducing the country’s lockdown measures to “Level 2” as soon as next week, pending cabinet approval. This would allow many Kiwis to go back to work, visit friends and family, and for businesses like markets, museums and dine-in restaurants to reopen, provided social distancing and hypervigilant hygienic practices are followed. Travel within the country will be allowed.
What are the current restrictions? New Zealand and Australia have both shut their borders to all international travel and non-residents, in addition to greatly restricting movement within the countries themselves. The countries have since begun to slowly open up; in New Zealand, that’s meant allowing outdoor exercise, small family gatherings and takeout and delivery service at restaurants and cafes.
In Australia, restrictions vary by state — in New South Wales, for example, cafes and restaurants are open for takeout only, gatherings in public places are limited to two people and parklands are open for socially distant exercise. Disobeying current rules is considered a criminal offense and can lead to fines or imprisonment.
Australia’s stage one allows a gradual reopening of retail stores, parks and outdoor sporting facilities. Dine-in restaurants and cafes can reopen, but are limited to 10 patrons at a time, and social distancing of four square meters per person. Hotels and hostels may reopen and travel within states will be allowed, though state borders will likely remain closed. All reopening timelines will be determined by individual states and territories — currently, Queensland plans to begin its stage one May 15 and Tasmania on May 18.
As of now, there is no firm date for the proposed trans-Tasman Bubble, or for more advanced phases of opening in both countries. Per Prime Minister Morrison’s recent remarks, he is hopeful that Australia will reach its third phase, which may include trans-Tasman travel, by July. When travel within the trans-Tasman Bubble has been deemed safe, both nations are interested in potentially expanding to include other Pacific island countries.
How will they open safely? When trans-Tasman travel is allowed, it’s likely that a 14-day quarantine will be required following any travel between the two nations.
What are the major obstacles? Much of Australia and New Zealand’s success in containing Covid-19 can be attributed to the strictness of their lockdowns. Any easing of these measures comes with the possibility that the virus could begin circulating again. Proceeding with extreme caution, while attempting to effectively reopen their economies, will guide the coming weeks and months.
Thanks to fast action and restrictions put in place before a major outbreak, Greece has avoided the major outbreaks of nearby Italy — as of May 6, the country has reported 2,663 cases and 147 deaths.
Is there an opening date? The first phase of Greece’s two-month plan began May 4, “with the opening of some shops and services,” according to VisitGreece.gr. More businesses are expected to open on May 11 and 18; next steps will be announced on May 18, with the opening of other businesses, including restaurants and hotels, starting June 1.
What are the current restrictions? As restrictions continue to lift, Greeks are required to wear masks on public transit, in hospitals and in shops. Residents are still not allowed to travel beyond their “wider region of residence;” travel from outside the European Union, plus Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany, is banned. All arrivals are subject to a 14-day quarantine.
How will they open safely? In addition to maintaining a gradual cadence of openings over the next one to two months, there are no plans to resume sporting events, festivals, concerts or other large, crowded gatherings. According to a government presentation on the easing of restrictions, May and June will be dedicated to a “coordinated return to a ‘new normal’ with continuous monitoring,” while the focus in July and beyond will be on “sustaining the ‘new normal’ yet remaining alert, while simultaneously preparing for a second wave in the fall.”
Still, according to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the country hopes to open to tourists in the fall, using extensive testing and contact tracing, and placing emphasis on more easily distanced accommodations and activities, including agritourism and boating.
What are the major obstacles? Balancing the need for tourism with safety. While Greece has fared better than many European nations, its economy, having only just recovered from years of debt and collapse, is at great risk. Tourism has been a major part of the recent economic improvements, welcoming more than 34 million visitors in 2019 while employing 20 percent of Greek workers.
After requiring some of the strictest confinement measures in the United States, including a nightly curfew, Puerto Rico is beginning to look forward; in addition to a gradual easing of the lockdown and reopening of businesses, the Puerto Rican Tourism Company announced a new two-step program that will allow businesses to be recognized for exercising high standards of cleanliness and safety. As of May 6, Puerto Rico’s confirmed case count is 1,757, with 95 deaths.
Is there an opening date? If the first round of openings, which started May 4, goes well, restaurants may be allowed to open between May 18 and 25. The curfew is still in place, until at least May 25.
What are the current restrictions? Puerto Rico’s initial lockdown restrictions, which went into effect March 16, included a closure of most businesses, the curfew and threats of fines or imprisonment for anyone who violated its terms. As of May 4, restrictions are loosening somewhat — some smaller businesses are allowed to open, as long as they enforce social distancing and provide protective gear to employees. Parks and beaches remain closed (though exercise is allowed), and a curfew is still in effect between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. All visitors to the island are being screened for symptoms and are also requested to self-quarantine for 14 days.
What are the major obstacles? Puerto Rico’s population of older people, and a shaky health care system that was strapped during Hurricane Maria. Fears of a similar collapse make the possibility of a surge even more worrisome, particularly one occurring in concert with hurricane season. A recent earthquake disturbed residents, too, damaging some buildings and briefly knocking out power.
Thanks to an extensive program of testing and contact tracing, Iceland’s response has been quite successful, with about 1,800 cases, 10 deaths and no new cases as of May 6. With an economy that’s hugely reliant on tourism, the island nation is eager to find ways to safely reopen to the rest of the world.
Is there an opening date? Travel restrictions banning most foreigners are in place until May 15; there is currently not a final decision on extending those restrictions or beginning the process of reopening on or after that date.
What are the current restrictions? Iceland, more so than many countries, has remained relatively open — two-meter (about 6.5 feet) social-distancing rules are emphasized, but many businesses and primary schools have remained open, and residents may go outside. As of May 4, high schools and universities have reopened and gatherings of 50 people and under are allowed, with expectations for gatherings under 100 to be allowed by the end of May. Since March 20, most foreign nationals have been banned from entering the country (with the exception of citizens of the European Union, Britain and the European Free Trade Association); as of April 20, all visitors were required to quarantine for 14 days.
How will they open safely? Details are scarce, but the government has deployed a task force to determine how to safely reopen the country this spring or summer.
What are the major obstacles? Obstacles “are all health-related,” Elias Bj. Gislason, the director of the Icelandic Tourism Board, said. “Can we open up the borders only for citizens from countries that have had success in handling the spread of the virus? And so on.”
Tourism is a major industry in Mexico — the country saw close to 50 million visitors in 2018, with the vast majority from the United States. But with a steady rise of Covid-19 cases and a health care system that is at risk of being overwhelmed, a return to “normal” may be far off.
Is there an opening date? There is no official opening date for tourist services, said Enrique Vega Vázquez, the publisher of VisitMexico.com, but many hotels and restaurant owners are hoping to open by June 1. “Although everyone is confident that they will be able to reopen, the reality is that it is only what they have in mind,” he said. While President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has expressed his desire to reopen parts of the country by May 17, and the country in full by June 1, details of how that will happen remain scarce.
What are the current restrictions? All citizens and visitors are encouraged to stay home, maintain social distance and wash hands frequently. Gatherings over 100 people have been banned, and schools are closed until May 30. As of March 21, Mexico and the United States entered a joint agreement limiting all movement between the U.S.-Mexico land border to essential travel. Air travel, however, is still operational — all travelers entering the country are subject to health screenings. Hotels were ordered to cancel new and existing reservations on April 3, save those made by people carrying out essential business (with a letter from their employer stating their purpose); those hotels must limit occupancy to 15 percent. Restrictions also vary by state and municipality.
How will they open safely? A joint statement from Miguel Torruco Marqués, the secretary of tourism, and Jorge Alcocer Varela, the secretary of health, was published on April 23 and laid out details for the hospitality industry to insure cleanliness and safety, and to allow hotels and restaurants to safely function once the threat of Covid-19 has waned. Details include how frequently to disinfect spaces, procedures for disinfection and cleanliness requirements for employees, including providing them with protective equipment.
What are the major obstacles? Mr. Vázquez is unsure how these protocols will be enacted. “In reality, they are only plans,” he said, because business owners “do not really know how they will apply these measures.”
One of the harder hit European nations, France’s early Covid-19 surge has slowed, as the number of patients requiring hospitalization has steadily decreased. But while movement within the country may become less restricted in the coming weeks, international travel will take much longer to resume.
What are the current restrictions? A “containment and confinement” program was announced on March 17, and further extended on April 28 until May 11. Residents are not allowed to leave their homes without a written certificate stating that they are engaging in one of a few approved activities, including purchasing food, assisting a family member or limited exercise. Borders outside of the “European/Schengen” area were also closed.
How will they open safely? “The opening process will be gradual,” said Kate Schwab, the media relations manager at Atout France, France’s national tourism development agency. Small museums, libraries, stores and open-air markets will be allowed to open first, starting on May 11, with social distancing rules in place, but restaurants, cafes, major museums and beaches will be closed until early June. Masks will be required on public transportation, and gatherings will be limited to 10 or fewer people. Travel between regions in France will continue to be limited. “Each region will be classified as either red (high infection zone/not safe to relax confinement) or green (OK to relax confinement) but the ultimate decision will rest with the local authorities,” Ms. Schwab said. Paris, Calais, Strasbourg and Dijon are currently classified as red areas.
What are the major obstacles? Keeping gatherings small and avoiding crowded public transportation. “French destinations are working at implementing sanitary measures to adapt their cultural offerings to allow smaller groups,” Ms. Schwab said. A 20 million euro (about $21.6 million dollars) government initiative to encourage cycling over using public transportation was recently announced, with particular focus on opening up Paris. “Mayor Anne Hidalgo has announced that 30 miles of streets normally used for cars will be reserved for cyclists, including Rue de Rivoli and Boulevard Saint-Michel,” said Ms. Schwab. “Furthermore, another 30 streets will be pedestrian only, particularly around schools to avoid groups of people.”
Singapore’s early success in containing Covid-19 was upended in April with news of major outbreaks in migrant worker dormitories. Still, while the country’s positive case number climbs — at more than 20,000, it’s currently the highest in Southeast Asia — aggressive testing and contact tracing has kept the death toll low (with 20 reported as of May 6).
Is there an opening date? Currently, restrictions are in place until June 1, though “select services,” including barbers and hairdressers, laundry services and cake and confectionary shops, will be permitted to open May 12.
What are the current restrictions? All foreign, short-term visitors have been denied entry into Singapore since March 23. On April 7, strict “circuit breaker” measures were enacted throughout the country — all meetings and large gatherings are canceled; residents are to stay home as much as possible (face coverings are mandatory when leaving the house for essentials or emergency medical services); schools and nonessential businesses are closed; and dining establishments are restricted to delivery and takeout.
How will they open safely? According to Rachel Loh, the Singapore Tourism Board’s regional director of the Americas, the board is working with the National Environmental Agency to create an “SG Clean” certification process for hotels, food and beverage establishments, tourist attractions and more. Starting May 12, the government is also requiring open businesses to participate in the SafeEntry system, which will track all employees and visitors who enter and exit a location, to continue contact tracing efforts. The country is also testing the efficacy of using a “robot dog” to enforce social distancing.
What are the major obstacles? Opening up safely, Ms. Loh said, will be dependent on “ramping up testing and harnessing technology for faster contact tracing.” But tourism comes with its own brand of risk. “We recognize that tourism businesses attract high human traffic and social interactions.”
While cases remain relatively low — 625 total with 17 deaths as of May 5 — the state’s government has proceeded cautiously. The economic losses from tourism are worrisome, too, in a place that relies so heavily on the industry. A 2020 Strategic Plan published by the Hawaii Tourism Authority at the beginning of this year credited tourism with $17.75 billion spent in the state in 2019, and 216,000 local jobs.
Is there an opening date? On May 7, the first wave of nonessential businesses were allowed to open, including astronomical observatories, carwashes and some retail services. The required 14-day quarantine for air arrivals was also extended until at least May 31.
What are the current restrictions? Residents and visitors to Hawaii are asked to stay home, or in their place of residence, as much as possible, venturing out only for essential business or activities. Outdoor exercise, including running, walking and surfing, is allowed, as long as social distancing is practiced. While there is not currently an active ban on traveling to Hawaii, it is strongly discouraged. Visitors and residents who arrive by airplane are required to self-quarantine for 14 days (some of those who haven’t followed the rules have received a free ticket home); the same applies to travel between the Hawaiian islands.
How will they open safely? Gov. David Ige’s reopening plan differs by island. For example, retail establishments will not open on Oahu until May 15; retail in Maui still does not have a targeted opening date. All openings may be rolled back or paused if cases begin to sharply increase.
Few countries have been hit harder by Covid-19 than Italy (the United States being a notable exception), which, as of May 6, has seen well over 200,000 cases and some 30,000 deaths. As the country cautiously begins to reopen, tourism officials insist that tourism in Italy will start again this year.
Is there an opening date? Following the recent limited openings of some establishments, further openings are planned for May 18 — namely, additional shops, museums and libraries — and June 1, when bars and restaurants may be allowed to reopen for eat-in service, if infection rates continue to slow.
What are the current restrictions? This week, Italy’s lockdown, which began March 10, slowly began to lift, as parks reopened along with bars and restaurants for takeout. Some Italians are allowed to return to work, and while group gatherings are still banned, family visits are allowed. Residents may travel across different provinces to return home, but cannot go back and forth. In a televised statement on April 26, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte urged Italians to maintain one-meter social distancing, or about three feet. Anyone who enters Italy from outside the country must self-quarantine for two weeks. Travelers from the United States have not been explicitly banned, but travelers must prove that they are “returning to their residence or entering the country for justifiable work reasons, special needs or health emergencies.”
How will they open safely? Social distancing rules stand, and masks are required, even for the family visits mentioned above. Schools are expected to remain closed until September.
What are the major obstacles? Again, the need to balance health considerations and a desperate need to boost the economy. Italy’s already suffering economy has taken an enormous hit following nearly two months of shutdown and a 95 percent drop in tourism (the national tourism industry is predicting 20 billion euros in losses from tourism this year in comparison to 2019).