Hoping to travel internationally in the next few months? Then be prepared to navigate bewilderingly complex and constantly changing rules.
For the long-beleaguered travel and tourism sectors globally, there is some good news, and not too far on the horizon. Multiple countries have succeeded in rolling out relatively successful Covid-19 vaccination campaigns, and caseloads are falling or even negligible in many others. Given that this success coincides with peak tourism season, especially in North America, Europe, and North Asia, there is the hope of salvaging the ‘season’ in these areas. The European Union announced its decision to allow non-EU travellers who are completely vaccinated against COVID-19, another boost for summer travel.
“We will likely start seeing a change in the air travel landscape after May or June this year,” Alexandre de Juniac, Director of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said in March. His successor Billie Walsh said in April that “there is optimism in domestic markets where aviation’s hallmark resilience is demonstrated by rebounds in markets without internal travel restrictions”.
In March 2021, North America and Europe, which constitute about 46 per cent of the global air passenger market – were at about 60 per cent each, while Asia Pacific, with about 38 per cent of the global air passenger market, was about 67 per cent.
That revival is noticeable in several parts of the world. Greece, heavily economically dependent on tourism, has been beckoning visitors once again and a recent end to the UK ban on international leisure travel means both countries look likely to benefit. Portugal, France, Spain and Italy are among the countries said to be finalising plans for non-EU fully vaccinated individuals to visit this summer. The US has vaccinated more than half its population with at least one dose and 41 per cent fully and is opening up to all social and economic activities sooner than many expected.
The European Union has announced a plan to allow unrestricted travel within the bloc for those who have been vaccinated, recovered or test negative for the coronavirus from July 1. EU Digital Covid Certificates, accessible by an app or even in print form, will be requisite – but crucially, people can travel for leisure. Another reason for optimism within the EU is that some of its members have even started allowing vaccinated American citizens – a major contributor to Europe’s summer tourism economy. Of course, travellers need a vaccine approved by the EU’s drug regulator, European Medicines Agency (EMA) or the World Health Organisation (WHO). This includes vaccines by Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.
The airline sector is trialling different ways to mitigate losses and making travel safer. Singapore Airlines is trying out the IATA travel pass. “The first phase of the trials helped to support SIA’s drive towards a secure and convenient industry standard for the verification of Covid-19 test results, and the health status of passengers including their vaccination status, in the future,” said JoAnn Tan, Acting Senior Vice President Marketing Planning, Singapore Airlines.
Multiple governments are toying with their concepts of a ‘vaccine passport’ or ‘e-vaccination certification of compliance for border crossing regulations’ for international travel, though few countries have arrived at any consensus on the matter, including India.
Look before you book
For travel this year, the devil is truly in the details. Most leading tourism destinations have drawn up new rules – which often get updated at short notice. For example, the UK has a ‘traffic light list’ – according to which countries are classified into red, amber, and green categories, details of which can be checked here. “If there is a sudden change in conditions, a country or territory may be moved between lists without warning,” states the UK Department for Transport, which is overseeing travel rules for the nation. Then there are complications of differing rules. While the UK has put Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore on its green list at the moment, none of these are actually allowing international tourism at the moment.
Not to be outdone, the EU has a ‘White List’ – a list of countries whose citizens are permitted to engage in non-essential travel (read tourism) to the EU. Currently the list comprises Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and China. The EU has also announced a ‘roadmap’ for vaccinated travellers from outside the EU to travel to Europe.
There are different rules on travellers entering a country, which could range from mandatory RT-PCR tests from up to three days before travel to mandatory quarantine in approved Covid-19 centres for 14 days. Of especial significance is the fact that there are separate rules for entry into a destination country and separate rules for leaving and getting back to the home nation. Yes, rules are being made on the fly, and can catch travellers unawares.
While the EU is opening up travel from the US, the latter has the entire EU, as well as the UK, along with countries such as India, China, Iran and Brazil on its temporary travel ban list. “Anybody – with the exception of US citizens, legal permanent residents, and immediate family members – who has been in the following countries during the past 14 days may not enter the United States at this time,” according to GoUSA.
Visas don’t always translate into vacays
Despite a massive reduction in travel, it hasn’t stopped, and even from India, flights are operating under ‘air bubble’ rules. Will it be possible for us Indians to travel – internationally and even domestically soon? The likely answer is not immediately, though a few countries are still issuing visas (see below). Again, the key is to keep checking updates on this list.
So where does that leave Indians who have travel scheduled? While leisure travel is still out of bounds in most countries, some categories of people such as students enrolled in American or European universities are trying to make sense of the rules. Some experts opine they will need a valid F-1 visa and a negative RT-PCR test report taken within 72 hours of their flight’s departure, even if they are not vaccinated. India recently increased the gap between two doses of the vaccine, and this implies many have their flights dates before the second dose is due.
The lingering questions over the approval of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin is proving to be another vexing question as it has to get WHO approval. Indians may be able to travel more easily if Covaxin gets approved by WHO and EMA.
The Indian travel and tourism sector, which has suffered an estimated loss of Rs two lakh crore according to the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) by the end of FY 2020-21, is worried once again after a winter of returning optimism. According to Subhash Goyal, Chairman, STIC Travel, and former president of the organisation, “Those vaccinated or those carrying ‘vaccine passports’ should be allowed to travel.” As significant parts of the world open up to tourism, whether that could be part of the solution will be tested mainly by the response to the European summer of 2021.
Where Indians can travel now*
Not many countries are open for Indians at the moment, and most advise against non-essential travel, but there are a few countries issuing visas. The usual haunts for Indians are closed, but this might be a chance to discover other destinations. Also, for those entering India, authorities may require, depending on the country, mandatory quarantine and testing. *As of June 1, 2021
NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA
No quarantine required if the RT-PCR test is negative: Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Dominican Republic, Venezuela
Quarantine required: Barbados, Bermuda, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua
No quarantine required if the RT-PCR test is negative: Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia
Quarantine required: Rwanda, Gambia
No quarantine required if the RT-PCR test is negative: Afghanistan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan
Quarantine required: Bahrain, Turkey
No quarantine required if the RT-PCR test is negative: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Russia, Serbia
Quarantine required: Montenegro