Now that travel to Europe is suddenly -- albeit confusingly -- opening up, I was curious about whether clients are taking a wait-and-see approach or are already packing.
Like just about every aspect of the reopening, that depends.
Jim Strong, president of Strong Travel Services, a Virtuoso agency in Dallas, is seeing "many" confirmed bookings for travel this summer to Europe, as well as into the fall.
"These clients are ready to go and are all fully vaccinated but have maintained flexibility within the terms and conditions," he said, adding that most have purchased travel insurance to provide coverage if needed.
"We are seeing France, Spain, Greece and mainly Italy as the destinations of choice for the moment," he said, adding that once the EU makes a formal statement on a firm opening date and requirements for entry and exit, he predicts that list will widen and more clients will commit to booking.
Despite talk of boomers leading the charge back to travel, Strong said age has not been a factor among the clients who are booking now. More important has been vaccination status, noting that "those who are vaccinated feel they have the personal protection to travel without restrictions."
Vaccine requirement pushback
As to whether he anticipates any pushback from clients about vaccine passports, should that become a uniform requirement, he said: "The short answer is no. The pushback comes from the cumbersome and confusing restrictions imposed from country to country."
Kayla Zeigler, owner of Destination Europe, a Virtuoso member in Columbus, Ohio, is also seeing bookings for this summer, but she said the majority of her clients are waiting for 2022.
Like Strong, she cites ongoing border restrictions and lack of clarity as the reason many travelers aren't ready to take the plunge yet this year.
Travelers who want a multicountry Europe experience are especially cautious to see how border crossings will look from country to country in the coming weeks and months.
That said, "I have probably a dozen or so clients whose trips were impacted last year who have reached out in the last two weeks and want to travel ASAP," Zeigler said.
Greece emerging as the hot summer destination
The top destinations for that group are Greece -- which she describes as the hot spot for this summer, followed by the beginnings of an Italy rebound.
"I have some interest in Iceland and Croatia, as well," Zeigler said, explaining that she traveled to Croatia in April on a fam trip with the Croatia National Tourism Board and RealCroatia https://www.realcroatia.com/en/ , as part of a first group of American travel professionals to return to Europe post-pandemic. She was so enthusiastic about her experience that she said her trip generated a lot of interest in the destination among her clients.
Zeigler said that while many of the clients who were the first to jump on travel for this year are among her "older" clients -- whom she was hearing from as early as February and March of this year and who were looking to book for the fall -- the floodgates opened to all ages since the beginning of May.
"With vaccine access being easier and easier for the younger demographic, my requests have tripled, and I am hearing from nearly everyone at this point. Which is great because so many travelers are getting vaccinated now and are beyond ready to travel to Europe."
For 2022, she has requests from the start through to the end of the year, "and they keep coming in, especially for next summer. It does seem that 2022 may be the year for Europe travel to fully rebound."
When asked about vaccine pushback, Zeigler said that her clients are typically vaccinated and ready to go.
However, she reported being contacted recently by one nervous client asking whether Europe is likely to make the vaccine a requirement for entry.
"Of course, I can't answer this question in a definite way right now as we still don't know what the full requirements of the EU and each country will be, but his response was more in line with that of a person who wants to travel to Europe but is not ready or willing get the vaccine at this time.
"It is for sure a contentious issue for all travel advisors to navigate right now, especially when large companies such as cruise lines and tour operators will be or may be making it a requirement."