With various countries vaccinating at different speeds and tourism desperate to restart, a year of travel corridors looks increasingly possible
Europe's proposed soccer 'Super League' scored a spectacular own goal this week, but could a holiday 'Super League' catch on?
As vaccination programmes race ahead in places like the UK and Israel, and others like like Greece, Thailand and Turkey rush to inoculate tourism staff, a privileged tier of holiday destinations seems possible.
Speculation is already rife as to where people may be able to holiday first, with tourist-starved destinations like Greece, Spain and Cyprus jockeying for early consideration and industry modelling showing some surprise possibilities. The Telegraph has suggested an ' Accessible Eight', for example, including the USA, Israel, Iceland, Malta, Gibraltar, Australia, New Zealand and... Ireland.
It shows the pitfalls of second-guessing Covid. Australia and New Zealand have bubbled up together, for example, but are unlikely to freely welcome outsiders soon. Vaccinations are charging ahead in the US, but its State Department is this week moving 80pc of the world's countries to its ' Do Not Travel' list.
Debates about vaccine passports are ongoing, the UK has given no indication as to what countries will be on its 'green list' after travel is allowed to resume from May 17, and though Ireland has progressed from 'deep red' to 'orange' on the EU's 'traffic light' system, Government continues to advise against all non-essential travel and we have no roadmap for reopening.
A lot has to happen for global travel to reboot, in other words.
Nevertheless, with different countries vaccinating at different speeds and tourism desperate to restart, a year of travel corridors looks increasingly possible. Think of it as a 'Super League' based on travel between destinations with similar rates of inoculation, low infection, and agreed entry criteria.
Here's what a holiday map could look like in the months ahead.
Greece was one of the first countries to announce it would welcome visitors back this summer. From May 14, borders will reopen to tourists who have been vaccinated, can show a recent negative Covid-19 test or have coronavirus antibodies. A vaccination programme codenamed ‘Freedom’ hopes to ensure at least 69 islands will be Covid-free by the end of this month, protecting vulnerable residents and restoring visitor confidence. Ryanair and Aer Lingus have new routes to islands including Santorini, Rhodes and Corfu this summer.
Under a new a tourism incentive scheme, Malta plans to give hotel guests up to €200 each to check in this summer. The islands remain in partial lockdown, but is running one of the EU’s speedier vaccine roll-outs, with some 58pc of people now in receipt of at least a first dose, according to the New York Times vaccinations tracker. The scheme will commence from June 1, when the islands’ tourism sector is scheduled to reopen. Ryanair currently has flights scheduled between Dublin and Malta throughout summer.
Ireland is exempted from UK travel restrictions, the UK's vaccination programme is the envy of Europe, and air access has been plentiful. Could UK holidays be on the cards, if not this summer, then in autumn? "Government should, as an immediate priority, seek to restore the full operation of the Common Travel Agreement," the National Civil Aviation Development Forum said in its recent Aviation Restart Plan. Australia and New Zealand have agreed a travel bubble though clearly, Ireland's vaccination rates need to catch up to the UK's. Remember, prior to the pandemic, British people made up Ireland's single biggest overseas holiday market, so their return could make a huge difference to a devastated tourism industry.
Restaurants and cafes have reopened in Portugal, and the country expects to be open for UK visitors from May 17, the earliest date they could be allowed to holiday overseas. It is seen as likely that holidaymakers will be able to enter without restrictions if they show evidence that they have been vaccinated, have coronavirus antibodies or have received a recent negative test. Madeira has for months being pitching itself as "one of the safest destinations" in Europe, has transformed a coastal village into a remote working hub, and already allows people who have been vaccinated or have coronavirus antibodies to enter without a having to show a negative PCR test result.
One of the very few green spots on the ECDC's 'traffic light' map for travel, Iceland's small population, wide-open spaces and steady vaccination progress tees it up nicely for a gradual return of visitors. It allows travellers showing proof of vaccination to bypass quarantine and testing rules and, if IcelandAir's direct services return as planned from Dublin in the coming months, is just a 2.5 hour flight away. Don't expect a cheap trip, however. Iceland is favouring a less-is-more, sustainable approach to future tourism that is likely to see it remain one of Europe's most expensive visits.
It's the destination everyone wishes could open. Irish people visit Spain more than any other country on holiday, and not just the mainland - but the Canary and Balearic islands too. It's working to have the EU's Digital Green Certificate in place by June, so that it can be operational this summer, allowing citizens of Europe to enter without having to quarantine or take a coronavirus test, provided they are vaccinated or have antibodies. If all goes well (that's a big 'if'), I could see the Canary Islands provide a real winter sun corridor option towards the latter part of 2021. The islands have been working hard to convey a sense of control and safety, including providing visitors with free travel insurance to cover all expenses relating to Covid-19.
Turkey expects to welcome holidaymakers this summer even if they have not been vaccinated or taken a recent test. It has also said it plans to prioritise tourism workers in its vaccination programme. Although more than a four-hour flight away, package holidays here have been cheaper than in mainstream European resorts in the past, and Turkish Airlines is planning to add an Irish route to Antalya alongside its Istanbul flights.
The Mediterranean island allows visitors based on a 'traffic light' system aligned with the ECDC maps. All must fill in details on a "flight pass" form, many need to carry negative test results, and €30 PCR tests are available on arrival for visitors from countries designated 'red'. It has said British nationals who have received both doses of a coronavirus vaccine will be welcomed from May 1 without needing to take tests or self-isolate.
It's not your typical holiday from Ireland, but Israel is racing ahead on vaccinations - in some ways, watching society reopen there is like looking into the future. The country says it will begin welcoming back vaccinated holidaymakers from May 23 on a staged basis. Summer is a sauna, but could we see places like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the Dead Sea on autumn brochures?
Dreaming of further afield? Possibly the most baffling inclusion on Ireland's list of designated states for hotel quarantine, the Seychelles is storming ahead with vaccinations. According to the New York Times, it has fully vaccinated some 52pc of its population so far, and is already welcoming visitors. The Maldives, meanwhile, has given at least one dose to 55pc of its people, and is even offering vaccinations to visitors... provided they stay long enough, at their own expense. The isolated nature of Indian Ocean resorts could prove popular, and both are available to reach from Dublin via Dubai.