Felicity Long
Felicity Long

A recent kerfuffle in a neighboring town in Massachusetts where my family and I spend our summers made the news when an ice-cream shop reported customers flouting Covid-19 protocols and abusing staff who attempted to enforce the state-mandated rules. The shop owner, who had just reopened after months of virus-imposed lockdown, promptly reclosed in protest.

While not uncommon in some parts of the country, this kind of aggressive noncompliance is relatively rare in the Commonwealth, where the battle against the pandemic has been successfully carried out without drama, thanks in part to an early shutdown, a slow reopening and resolute personal sacrifice on the part of the citizenry. As a result, most locals don't take kindly to the noise created by the anti-masker movement.

Does all this have anything to do with Europe?

Well, it might if we attempt to export that lack of unity about disease-fighting strategies to our vacation mindset.

Take Ireland, where so-called bad behavior by incoming American tourists has reportedly rankled locals. At issue has been the current two-week self-quarantine rule for visitors arriving from the U.S., which apparently is being regarded by some travelers as a suggestion, rather than a mandate.

Of course, you could argue whether it's realistic to even allow people to fly to a destination if they have to spend two weeks in their hotel. What's the point of going?

But it is likely that countries overseas are factoring our divisive pandemic response -- along with our infection-rate numbers -- into their decisions about whether to take us off the persona non grata list.

Certainly, the thought of truculent tourists creating incidents at European museums and attractions by refusing to comply with health and safety regulations could give them pause.

Ruth Moran, publicity and communications manager for Tourism Ireland, described her country's arrivals strategy diplomatically.

"We are renowned for the warmth of our welcome, and this will not change," she said. "When the time is right, the tourism industry, and the population in general, look forward to renewing the special bond that exists between the U.S. and Ireland."

In the meantime, Ireland is accessible for incoming tourists from the U.S., but with the two-week quarantine requirement. The arrivals restrictions, which are being monitored by local authorities, were renewed July 20, and as of this writing, there is no immediate, specific end date, Moran said.

One thing travel advisors can do to help prepare their clients for a rewarding travel experience in Europe is to alert them to the Covid protocols of the country they will be traveling to and reinforce the advisability of abiding by them.

Many hotels have stepped up their domestic marketing efforts to fill the void.

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Unfortunately, this is easier said than done, because Europe is experiencing its own uneven virus-mitigation strategies, despite pleas from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) to come up with unified guidelines. In fact, the WTTC Covid-19 site includes the language: "The global outbreak of Covid-19 has led many countries to introduce border closures and travel restrictions. Travelers should be prepared these could change suddenly and without warning."

While most European countries mandate the wearing of masks on public transportation, for example, the rules for shops and other indoor venues vary by country -- in some cases, by region.

In France, masks are mandatory in all enclosed public spaces, and noncompliers will be fined. Germany has a countrywide mask policy for shops, but in Switzerland, only the cantons of Jura, Vaud and Geneva require masks in shops.

Scotland, Ireland and England started mandating masks in shops this month, but, as of this writing, Wales has not.

Masks are not required at all in Norway and Denmark, although they are recommended, and Sweden -- famously at this point -- doesn't necessarily even recommend them. 

I could go on, but you get the idea -- and we should point out that even these regulations are shifting under our feet.

Of course, all this is not only confusing for travelers, but negatively impacts Europe's GDP, which relies heavily on tourism for its jobs and economy, by chipping away at vacationer confidence. To bring some semblance of unity to its advice for travelers, WTTC unveiled a simple graphic designed to offer suggestions for best practices.

Bottom line, what's a travel advisor to do when preparing clients for European travel? In addition to trying to stay on top of evolving regulations, they can encourage would-be vacationers to abide by and be respectful of local protocols -- and when in doubt, in the words of the latest viral meme to hit social media, "wear the damn mask."

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