Travel plans in Europe: Should the invasion of Ukraine force us to reconsider our travels?

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(CNN) – As many travel restrictions finally eased in early 2022, Gabriele Antoni booked a trip she had wanted to go on: a few weeks in her home country, Germany, followed by a 12-day cruise with friends in Norway.

Florida, a 64-year-old Florida green card holder, has not returned to Germany since her mother’s death in February 2020. At the time, Antoni suddenly had to return to the United States, where she had lived for decades, to avoid border closures as the pandemic gained momentum.

Since then, however, he longs to return to his small hometown of Sonthofen to “properly grieve” his mother, he says, by visiting cafes they have visited together and by hiking where they once went to the foothills of the Bavarian Alps.

Before the trip, Antoni is busy booking hotels and tickets, making arrangements with friends – and, like many others who plan to visit Europe, watches the terrible headlines coming from Ukraine since the attack. Russia on February 24.

“I do everything, but I say in the corner of my soul, maybe you can’t do it, maybe you won’t get there,” Antoni told CNN Travel.

According to Hopper, bookings in Europe have slowed since mid-February.

Joel Saget / AFP via Getty Images

Antoni is not alone with his problems. According to a recent survey led by MMGY Travel Intelligence, a research division of marketing research firm MMGY Global, the war in Ukraine is now twice as likely to affect Americans’ travel plans to Europe as a coronavirus pandemic.

Of the 350 adult travelers surveyed from the United States with upcoming plans to visit Europe, 62% said the invasion was a factor in their travel planning, compared with 31% who said they had COVID-19 health and safety concerns. In addition, 47% said they had opted for a “wait and see” approach before planning a visit to Europe this year.

Flight data reflect similar hesitations.

According to a report from the Hopper flight tracking application, the number of return flights to Europe from the United States has risen as the Omicron wave has subsided, indicating a strong increase in transatlantic demand.

However, when news of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine began to emerge in mid-February, demand began to decline. According to Hopper, Europe has fallen from 21% to 15% of international bookings since 12 February – a remarkable drop from around 30% of international bookings in the same time frame that the region represents in a pre-pandemic year, such as if 2019.

People sit outside on a sunny afternoon in Dordrecht, the Netherlands, on March 10, 2022.

People sit outside on a sunny afternoon in Dordrecht, the Netherlands, on March 10, 2022.

Jeffrey Groeneweg / ANP / AFP via Getty Images

“You can travel safely”

However, travel and security experts say it is not yet necessary to start canceling trips.

Ukraine and Russia currently have a 4th degree ‘Do Not Travel’ warning from the US State Department, but the ministry has not issued similar warnings to European countries affected by the crisis.

Poland, which accepts the majority of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war, is listed at Advisory Level 4, but for Covid-19 concerns, not for the current conflict.

A spokesman for Rick Steves’ Europe said in an e-mail that the travel agency “intends[s] operate all Eastern European itineraries, including the Best of Poland tour, ”he added, the only tours he canceled were those with stops in Russia.

Europe remains truly open to passengers, despite the crisis in Ukraine. And after two years of pandemics, the tourism sector is more eager to welcome visitors than ever before.

And while concerns about traveling during the war are justified, security experts also point out that many of Europe’s most popular tourist areas, such as Barcelona, ​​Rome and Paris, are hundreds (if not thousands) of miles away from the current conflict in Ukraine.

“You don’t have to have such an anxiety [which] is one thing I see the most at the moment, ”said Greg Pearson, CEO and Founder of Care & Assistance Plus, FocusPoint International’s newly established travel and crisis assistance service.

“People may cancel their plans prematurely, and I don’t think we’re there yet. Everyone can guess what’s going to happen next, but when it comes to traveling to Western Europe, I think you can travel safely.” “

Gotland Island in Sweden is a popular holiday destination.  The city of Visby is pictured on March 3, 2022.

Gotland Island in Sweden is a popular holiday destination. The city of Visby is pictured on March 3, 2022.

In countries closer to Ukraine, the situation is somewhat unclear.

Pearson estimates that about 30% of CAP customers in the past few weeks have either canceled or postponed trips to countries, including the Czech Republic and Germany, none of which border Ukraine. Other passengers have moved their routes further from the conflict to Western Europe.

In addition, says Pearson, some passengers are worried about taking shore trips during river boat trips in Eastern Europe.

“The advice we gave them was, ‘Get out of here.’ [the boat]Pearson told CNN Travel. “They need those tourist dollars, they want to see you, they want you to visit their restaurants, they shop and stay if you can, so we want people to do it. Our mantra is to travel without fear, but to travel informed and stay connected.”

“This uncertainty is really hard”

Not surprisingly, some European tourism officials fear a potential disruption to travel – another failure facing the afflicted industry after two challenging years.

In Prague, Czech Republic, the Tourism Council is focusing its summer marketing campaigns on domestic tourism and visitors from other European countries instead of the United States and Asia, the organization said in a statement shared with CNN Travel.

Christian Tänzler, a spokesman for Visit Berlin in Germany, also said that although he expects Europeans to travel around Europe as usual for the spring and summer holidays, unless the Ukrainian crisis spreads to other countries, the US market is tougher. .

In the years without a pandemic, U.S. passengers formed the second largest group of international tourists after the United Kingdom, Tänzler said.

However, in light of the current crisis, these passengers appear to be waiting to be booked, although the organization has not yet seen a significant increase in canceled flights.

“In fact, no one knows if people will start to disturb the situation,” he said. “This uncertainty is really hard.”

In addition, Tänzler noted that US-based passengers may not have an accurate view of the current situation in Germany, which he said is “absolutely safe.”

“Last weekend in Berlin, cafes, bars and restaurants were crowded,” Tänzler said. “Everything was crowded. Everyone was sitting outside. It was like a normal spring day.”

But even for travelers who know Europe well – 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 add another layer of fear.

It is Antoni’s first-hand fear: After the Chernobyl disaster in April 1986, she and her young children decided to cancel a trip from the United States to Germany.

“It was a big deal,” Antoni said, recalling memories of warnings about possible food contamination and other health problems in Germany. “I hope, I hope, and I hope it doesn’t happen again. But I always say, ‘When I get there, I’ll cross the bridge.’ There is no need to worry now. “

People walk in Piazza del Campo near Palazzo Comunale on March 4, 2022 in Siena, Italy.

People walk 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 reconsider their upcoming travel plans to Europe, safety and risk experts note that it is always a good habit to be informed of current events no matter where you go. They also stress the need to put in place a solid plan in case things go wrong, whether it’s a coronavirus or a war.

“The worst time to find out what to do in a crisis is in the middle of a crisis,” said Pearson of the CAP.

As two years of cancellations and interruptions caused by the pandemic have shown, reliable travel insurance and flexible booking and accommodation conditions are more important than ever.

Before leaving, make copies of important travel documents, such as passports and vaccination certificates, and U.S. citizens and U.S. nationals should make sure they register with the State Department. Intelligent Traveler Registration Program, a free service that connects passengers with embassies and consulates in their destination country. The service also provides travel and security updates.

It is also important to find out where you will go in advance in the event of an emergency, such as a war.

“If the war spreads through Eastern Europe or into one inch of NATO soil, you should have a plan to evacuate or relocate to a safer area,” said Tim Hentschel, co-founder and CEO of HotelPlanner, a global hotel sales service provider. market. “Always have an emergency plan whenever you travel to a city that is foreign to you.”

Pearson also advises travelers to share a copy of their itinerary, hotel and flight information with friends or family at home. According to him, regular inspections are also important. Don’t forget basic things like “how to dial a phone internationally when you’re abroad.”

In addition, passengers heading to Poland or other countries with a large influx of refugees should be aware of the constraints on 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, passengers should always be vigilant and avoid conflicts with security.

Finally, while a devastating invasion and humanitarian crisis should not prevent people from taking the much-anticipated holiday, what is happening in Ukraine can also offer passengers a deep sense of perspective, especially in light of common travel problems, such as e.g. security lines.

“I talk to people in my circles who are interested in traveling, and one of the things I tell them is, ‘Don’t be an ugly American,'” Pearson said. “Of course, have fun, have a great time, but be sensitive to the fact that right now there are a lot of people who have been recently displaced and struggling.”

Top image: On March 2, 2022, people walk in the port and shopping complex of Puerto Banús in Marbella, Spain.

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