(CNN) — When many travel restrictions were finally lifted in early 2022, Gabriele Antoni booked the trip she had long wanted to take: a few weeks in her home country of Germany, followed by a 12-night cruise in Norway with friends.
The 64-year-old Florida resident and US green card holder has not returned to Germany since her mother died in February 2020. At the time, Anthony had to abruptly return to the United States, where she had lived for decades, to avoid border closures as the pandemic gained momentum.
But since then, she has longed to return to her small hometown of Sonthofen to “properly mourn” her mother, visiting the cafes they frequented together and hiking in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps, she says.
Ahead of her trip, Antoni is busy booking hotels and flights, making arrangements with friends and, like many others planning to visit Europe, has been keeping an eye on the horrific headlines coming out of Ukraine after it was invaded by Russia on February 24th.
Bookings in Europe have slowed since mid-February, according to travel website Hopper.
Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images
Of 350 U.S. adults surveyed planning to visit Europe soon, 62% said the invasion is a factor in their travel planning, compared to 31% who cited Covid-19 health and safety concerns. In addition, 47% said they are waiting and watching to see how the situation develops before planning a trip to Europe this year.
Flight data reflects similar fluctuations.
According to a report from flight-tracking app Hopper, searches for round-trip flights to Europe from the United States were on the rise as the wave of Omicron options subsided, indicating a strong recovery in transatlantic demand.
But when news of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine began to make headlines in mid-February, that demand began to wane. Since February 12, the share of international bookings in Europe has dropped from 21% to 15%, according to Hopper data — a notable decline from about 30% of international bookings in the same time period that the region falls in a pre-pandemic year, such as as of 2019. year.
People sit outside on a sunny afternoon in Dordrecht, the Netherlands on March 10, 2022.
Jeffrey Groneweg/ANP/AFP via Getty Images
“You can travel safely”
However, travel and security experts say there is no need to start canceling trips just yet.
Ukraine and Russia currently have Level 4 “Do Not Travel” warnings from the US Department of State, but the department has not issued a similar advisory for European countries hit by the crisis.
Poland, which hosts the majority of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war, is listed as a Level 4 recommendation, but due to Covid-19 issues, not the current conflict.
A spokesman for Rick Steves’ Europe said in an email that the travel company “intends[s] to launch all Eastern European itineraries, including the Best of Poland tour,” adding that the only canceled tours are those that stop in Russia.
Indeed, Europe remains open to travelers despite the crisis unfolding in Ukraine. And after a two-year hiatus during the pandemic, the tourism sector is more than ever ready to welcome visitors.
And while fears of wartime travel are valid, security experts also point out that many of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations, such as Barcelona, Rome and Paris, are many hundreds (if not thousands) of miles away from the current conflict in Ukraine.
“You don’t need to be in that state of heightened anxiety, [which] is what I see the most right now,” said Greg Pearson, CEO and founder of Care & Assistance Plus, a recently launched travel and crisis assistance service for global firm FocusPoint International.
“People may be canceling their plans prematurely and I don’t think we’re there yet. No one can guess what will happen next, but as far as traveling to Western Europe is concerned, I think you can travel safely. “
The island of Gotland in Sweden is a popular holiday destination. The city of Visby is pictured on March 3, 2022.
Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP via Getty Images
For countries located closer to Ukraine, the situation becomes a little bleaker.
Pearson estimates that about 30% of CAP customers have either canceled or postponed travel to countries in the past few weeks, including the Czech Republic and Germany, none of which border Ukraine. Other travelers shifted their routes further away from the conflict and into Western Europe.
In addition, Pearson said some travelers are concerned about whether they should take part in shore excursions on river tours in Eastern Europe.
“The advice we gave them was: [the boat]Pearson told CNN Travel. “They want those travel dollars, they want to see you, they want you to visit their restaurants and shops and stay if you can, so we want people to do that. Our mantra is to travel fearlessly, yet stay informed and connected.”
“This uncertainty is really tricky”
Unsurprisingly, some European tourism officials are concerned about a potential tourism disruption, another setback facing the beleaguered industry after two challenging years.
In Prague, Czech Republic, the tourism board has focused its summer marketing campaigns on domestic tourism and visitors from other European countries rather than the US and Asia, the organization said in a statement shared with CNN Travel.
Christian Tenzler, Visit Berlin spokesman for Germany, also said that while he expects Europeans to travel across Europe as usual for spring and summer break until the Ukrainian crisis spreads to other countries, the US market is more difficult to sell. . .
In non-pandemic years, US travelers made up the second largest group of international tourists after the UK, Tenzler said.
However, in light of the current crisis, these travelers appear to be on a wait-and-see basis with respect to bookings, although the organization has yet to notice a noticeable spike in cancellations.
“No one really knows if people will start canceling tickets because of the situation,” he said. “This uncertainty is really tricky.”
In addition, Tenzler noted, US travelers may not have an accurate idea of the current situation in Germany, which he says is “absolutely safe.”
“Last weekend in Berlin, all the cafes, bars, restaurants were packed,” Tenzler said. “Everything was full. Everyone was sitting outside. It was a normal spring day.”
But even for travelers with intimate knowledge of Europe, such as Antoni, who grew up in Germany, the specter of a possible nuclear war or the fallout from war-damaged nuclear reactors in Ukraine can create additional fear.
It’s a fear Anthony understands firsthand: after the Chernobyl disaster in April 1986, she decided to cancel her trip from the US to Germany with her young children.
“It was a big deal,” Anthony said, recalling warnings about possible food contamination and other health hazards in Germany. “I hope and hope and hope this doesn’t happen again. But I always say, “I’ll cross the bridge when I get there.” There is no point in worrying now.”
People in Piazza del Campo near Palazzo Comunale on March 4, 2022 in Siena, Italy.
MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/AFP via Getty Images
“Always have an emergency plan”
As some travelers re-evaluate their plans for upcoming trips to Europe, safety and risk experts note that it’s always good to stay up to date on current events, no matter where you’re headed. They also highlight the need to have a solid plan in case something goes wrong, be it coronavirus or war.
“The worst time to figure out what to do in a crisis is in the middle of a crisis,” CAP’s Pearson said.
As two years of cancellations and disruptions caused by the pandemic have shown, reliable travel insurance and flexible booking policies for flights and accommodations are more important than ever.
Figuring out where you will go ahead of time in case of an emergency, such as a wartime conflict, is also critical.
“If the war spreads to all of Eastern Europe or one inch of NATO land, you need to have a plan to evacuate or move to a safer location,” says Tim Hentschel, co-founder and CEO of HotelPlanner, a service provider for global hotel sales. market. “Always have an emergency plan when you travel to a city that is not yours.”
Pearson also encourages travelers to share a copy of their itinerary, hotel and flight information with friends or family back home. Regular checks are also important, he said. Also, don’t forget the basics like “how to make phone calls abroad while abroad”.
In addition, travelers heading to Poland or other countries hosting a large influx of refugees should also be aware of the limitations of transport infrastructure and the availability of hotel rooms.
Protests and demonstrations, meanwhile, continue in popular European tourist destinations, and although most of them are peaceful, travelers should always be vigilant and avoid conflicts with security authorities.
Finally, while a devastating invasion and a humanitarian crisis shouldn’t stop people from taking a long-awaited vacation, what’s happening in Ukraine can also give travelers a deep sense of perspective, especially in light of common travel issues such as long security lines.
“I talk to people in my circle who are interested in travel, and one of the things I say to them is, ‘Don’t be an ugly American,'” Pearson said. “Sure, have fun, have a good time, but just be sensitive to the fact that there are a lot of people recently displaced and struggling right now.”
Top image: People walk along the marina and shopping complex of Puerto Banus in Marbella, Spain on March 2, 2022.