With the German government meeting every couple of weeks to agree upon new rules for the pandemic – each time based on the current rate of infection – it is very hard to say with any certainty what rules will apply to travel four months into the future.
But the travel industry is lobbying the government hard to offer hope to businesses that suffered an 80 percent drop in revenues last year.
“Normal people want to finally get out again and need perspective, but so do the companies that offer and arrange travel, as well as the almost three million people employed in tourism,” Norbert Fiebig, head of the German Tourism Association, told N-TV last week.
The government’s tourism commissioner, Thomas Bareiß, said in February that he hopes that holidays will be possible again after the Whitsun holidays, which fall on May 23rd this year.
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“I hope that by summer most Germans will have been vaccinated and will also be able to travel abroad,” Bareiß told Bild newspaper.
The federal government has been a bit more cautious, saying it plans to offer everyone who wants one a vaccination by September. The reality of that promise is that many younger people might not be able to travel freely in Europe again until the autumn.
Some experts warn that the rollout has been so slow that even completing the vaccine programme in September is unrealistic.
Why are incidence rates so important?
Last summer the Foreign Ministry issued travel warnings for a country or region if the data published by the Robert Koch Institute showed that the seven-day incidence there was higher than 50.
Because cases dropped significantly during the warm summer months, travel to almost the entirety of Europe was possible.
The incidence of 50 is still the benchmark used by the Foreign Ministry. If infections fall off again in the same way this summer, the government would be expected to lift its travel warnings for regions where cases are below 50/100,000 for a seven-day period.
A new spanner in the works has arrived though in the form of mutated strains of the virus originating from the UK, South Africa and Brazil, which the Robert Koch Institute says are more transmissible.
Germany currently does not allow travel from several countries which are listed as “virus variant areas”. These include the UK, Ireland, the Tyrol region of Austria and Portugal.
Since these strains are gradually gaining the upper hand in several countries, including Germany, there is an unpredictability over how the government will react.
What will the vaccine passport do?
The big game changer this year is the vaccine rollout, which started across Europe at the beginning of the year.
The 27 EU member states are currently negotiating an agreement on a so-called vaccine passport. The document would prove that the person has already been vaccinated and it would allow them to move freely between EU member states.
While each country would set its own limits on what rights a vaccine passport holder obtains, it is to be expected that country’s with big tourism sectors will use it to kick start the beach season.
The travel agency TUI has confirmed that it is currently in talks with Greece, Spain and Cyprus about the conditions under which it could organize holidays in those countries.
TUI CEO Fritz Joussen is confident that the summer tourism season will go ahead. “Travelling in Europe will be possible in summer 2021, under conditions which are both safe and responsible,” he said.
Travel companies are also placing their hopes in home testing, which allows people to test themselves without having to go to the doctor. The first such tests went on sale in supermarkets this week.
Airlines hope that these tests will allow people to travel conveniently and safely until they have been vaccinated.
Lufthansa has added 30 new destinations, all of them in tourism areas, in expectation of a surge in bookings before the summer. Several of the new destinations are small Greek islands including Mykonos and Kos.
“We know that demand surges when the restrictions are lifted,” Lufthansa board member Harry Hohmeister told the Munich Merkur.
How can you play it safe?
Surveys show that the vast majority of Germans are planning to take their vacation inside the Bundesrepublik this year.
An overwhelming 75 percent say they will travel to a domestic location, with the Baltic coast likely to be particularly popular.
Just 3.7 percent said they were planning to go to Italy, which is normally Germans favourite holiday destination. Similarly, just 2.4 percent are planning a trip to Spain and 1.3 percent think they’ll go to Croatia.
Travel experts advise those who are thinking about booking far in advance to buy flexi-tickets, which allow you to change your booking if the situation on the ground doesn’t improve.
With TUI, for example, a flexi-ticket allows customers to cancel their booking up to two weeks in advance.