With the summer season over, Europe enters a different stage in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. 74% of EU adults are now fully vaccinated and vaccination efforts are ongoing throughout Europe. Despite the continued spread of the virus at community level, the impact of the pandemic on public health has been brought under control within the EU.

EU travel and tourism associations (including the ETC, the WTTC, ECTAA, ACI Europe and A4E) welcome discussions between member states about the revision of Council recommendations on travel restrictions. The Council is considering updating the criteria behind the colour-coded EU travel restrictions map, to include vaccination and hospitalisation rates and not only the incidence rate.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) now acknowledges that EU travel restrictions have not had a significant impact on reducing virus transmission, hospitalisations, or deaths. Consequently, the ECDC suggests discontinuing the use of the combined indicators and the colour-coded system to focus on promoting vaccination amongst travellers.

European stakeholders are calling for the discontinuation of travel restrictions for all Digital Covid Certificate (DCC) holders, irrespective of their country/area of origin. EU countries should thus move towards a traveller risk-based approach, rather than the country-to-country approach that is currently used. With a focus on the individual traveller, there is no justification to treat international travel any differently than intra-EU travel.

International travel should be made possible with the same conditions as for intra-EU travel: based on vaccination, recovery or a negative Covid-19 test; with quarantine requirements and recommendations against non-essential travel strictly limited to very high incidence or variant areas of concern.

EU leaders must focus on restoring international air travel as quickly as possible, building on the success of the Digital Covid Certificate (DCC). Since its launch in June 2021, the DCC has quickly become the de facto global standard, with over half a billion certificates downloaded. Tourism stakeholders are asking the EU to use its influence and the DCC’s success to accelerate execution on the commitments made during the G7 Summit, whereby members agreed to “a set of common standards for travel including interoperability and mutual recognition of digital applications, testing requirements, recognition of vaccination status and comparable criteria for when responsive measures may be required”.

European stakeholders plea for further loosening of rules
More tourists from overseas could visit the EU if all WHO vaccins were to be accepted ( Hofburg in Vienna- Photo : LC/Cleverdis)

EU travel and tourism stakeholders’ demands

  • Member States should work on updating and aligning their travel rules and restrictions. In particular, harmonisation is required on the list of recognised vaccines and mixed vaccinations, on the duration of the validity of tests and vaccinations and on requirements for children.
  • Together with the European Commission, Member States need to work on a coordinated EU Covid “Exit Plan for Travel and Tourism”. Such as :
    • A harmonised approach to fully re-establish freedom of movement, recognising the endemic nature of COVID-19 and replacing complex traffic light systems;
    • Common criteria on when to discontinue the use of passenger locator forms (PLFs) as well as hygiene standards at a later stage (face masks, social distancing, etc);
    • Simple and clear rules that are the same throughout Europe.
  • All Member States should recognise the seven WHO approved vaccines for international travel, as the US just did. This option is already included in the DCC Regulation itself and could be a basis for a more harmonised approach. Vaccine certification accepted at the border should also be accepted to enter facilities in destination where required. This measure would simplify travel rules for non-EU travellers.
  • to facilitate the recovery of international travel, tourism stakeholders strongly support the ongoing work of the European Commission in seeking agreements with third countries on mutual recognition of COVID-19 certificates.
  • Digitalisation of verification procedures: Manual checks by crew continue to cause complexity and long queues at airports and ports and might become difficult to manage with traffic recovering. National governments should digitalise the verification process by providing a simple “okay to travel” message as part of the online check-in.
  • Antigen tests should be systematically accepted as an alternative to slower and more expensive PCR tests.
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