CANCUN -- The World Travel and Tourism Council on Sunday kicked off its first in-person global meeting since 2019 with good news: a New York Times report that said Europe would open its borders to vaccinated travelers this summer.

The report was posted online as government and travel industry leaders from more than 20 countries gathered for the WTTC's annual summit, whose theme this year is "Uniting the World for Recovery."

At the same time that tourism ministers here were calling for common protocols to open borders, the Times reported that the president of the European Commission said the bloc's 27 members would "accept, unconditionally" all travelers this summer with approved vaccines, which include the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots being administered in the United States.

According to the Times, EC president Ursula von der Leyen did not give a date or details about how members would reopen for vaccinated travelers.

Fernando Valdes Verelst, Sec of State of Tourism, Spain, at 2021 World Travel and Tourism Global Summit in Cancun.
Fernando Valdes Verelst, Sec of State of Tourism, Spain, at 2021 World Travel and Tourism Global Summit in Cancun. Photo Credit: Arnie Weissmann

Spain's secretary of state for tourism, Fernando Valdes Verelst, told Travel Weekly here on Sunday that the breakthrough came during a meeting of the EU Council Feb. 25 and 26. A stumbling block was that EU countries that aren't dependent on tourism weren't willing to make visitation a priority, but countries including Spain, Portugal and Greece convinced them that 2021 could not be a repeat of 2020 with uncoordinated regulation, and that successful vaccine rollouts in the U.S., UK and Israel opened the door for a safe reopening.

Should there be a spike in one EU country, he said, the EU rules wouldn't change, though source market countries may want to impose quarantines or testing upon return.

Shortly before the report was published, WTTC CEO Gloria Guevara hailed the summit as an "unprecedent and relevant event" to help the pandemic-ravaged travel sector recover and said the summit's goal was to spend the next two days defining the recovery and "how can we speed it up."

At a Sunday afternoon panel, ministers of tourism from Colombia, Greece, Honduras, Jamaica, Portugal, Saudi Arabia and Spain called for uniform standards and public-private cooperation and leadership to reopen global tourism.

"Let's work together to solve the issues," said Harry Theocharis, the tourism minister for Greece, which plans to open to vaccinated travelers and those with negative Covid-19 tests on May 14. 

"Let's create those initiatives, let's join these initiatives to make safe travel and tourism possible," Theocharis said.

While the WTTC summit was scaled back, it nonetheless represented a significant undertaking. All of the attendees were tested for Covid-19 on arrival, and social distancing and other health and safety protocols were in place across the Moon Palace resort and conference center.

Another 30,000 were expected to connect to the event virtually on Monday and Tuesday. 

Contributing editor Meagan Drillinger contributed to this report.

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