Should you cancel your travel plans to Europe due to the war in Ukraine?

(CNN) — With travel restrictions finally eased in early 2022, Gabriele Antoni booked a trip she’d wanted to take for some time: several weeks in her native Germany, followed by a 12-day cruise to Norway with friends.

The 64-year-old Florida resident has not returned to Germany since her mother’s death in February 2020. At that time, Antoni had to abruptly return to the United States, where she has lived for decades, to avoid border closures. as the pandemic escalated.

People walk along Puerto Banús pier in Marbella, Spain, March 2, 2022.

But since she has longed to return to her small hometown of Sonthofen to ‘mourn’ her mother, she says, visiting the cafes they frequented together and hiking where they did once on the slopes of the Bavarian Alps.

En los preparativos de su viaje, Antoni está ocupada reservando hoteles y vuelos, haciendo planes con sus amigos y, como muchos otros que tienen planes de visitar Europa, está atenta a los horrible titulares que llegan de Ucrania desde que fue invadida por Rusia el 24 February.

“I’m trying my best, but deep down I’m like, ‘You might not be able to do this, you might not be able to do this,'” Antoni told CNN Travel.

travel europe war ukraine

Bookings in Europe have slowed since mid-February, according to travel site Hopper.
Credit: Joël Saget/AFP via Getty Images

Antoni is not the only one to worry. According to a recent survey by MMGY Travel Intelligence, the research arm of marketing research firm MMGY Global, the war in Ukraine is now twice as likely to affect Americans’ travel plans to Europe as the coronavirus pandemic. .

Of 350 adult US travelers intending to visit Europe who were surveyed, 62% said the invasion is a factor in planning their trips, compared to 31% who cited health and safety concerns related to Covid-19.

Additionally, 47% said they were taking a “wait and see” approach to developments before planning to visit Europe this year.

Flight data reflects similar doubts.

According to a report by flight-tracking app Hopper, searches for round-trip flights to Europe from the United States increased as the wave of the omicron variant of the coronavirus waned, signaling a strong rebound in the transatlantic demand.

But when news of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine started making headlines in mid-February, that demand began to wane. According to data from Hopper, since February 12, Europe has seen a drop of 21% to 15% in its international reserves, a notable decrease from the roughly 30% in international reserves over the same period for the region in one year. year. like 2019.

travel europe war ukraine

People sit outside on a sunny afternoon in Dordrecht, the Netherlands, on March 10, 2022.
Credit: Jeffrey Groeneweg/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

“You can travel safely”

However, travel and security experts say there’s no need to start canceling trips just yet.
Ukraine and Russia currently have Level 4 “do not travel” warnings from the US State Department, but the US State Department has not issued similar advisories for European countries affected by the crisis.

Poland, which hosts most Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war, has a level 4 warning, but for reasons related to covid-19, not the current conflict.

A spokesperson for Rick Steves’ Europe said via email that the tour operator “intends to honor all Eastern European itineraries, including the ‘Best of Poland’ tour”, adding that the only canceled tours are those with stopovers in Russia.

In fact, Europe remains open to travelers despite the crisis unfolding in Ukraine. And after great difficulties during two years of pandemic, the tourism sector is more ready than ever to receive visitors.

And while the concern over wartime travel is valid, security experts also point out that many of Europe’s most popular tourist areas, such as Barcelona, ​​Rome and Paris, are several hundred (if not thousands) of kilometers from the current conflict. Ukraine.

“You don’t have to have this kind of heightened state of anxiety, [que] that’s what we’re seeing the most right now,” said Greg Pearson, CEO and Founder of Care & Assistance Plus, a crisis and travel assistance service recently launched by global company FocusPoint International.

“People may be canceling their plans prematurely, and I don’t think we’re there yet. Anyone can guess what’s going to happen, but when it comes to traveling to Western Europe, I think it’s is safe to travel.” .

europe travel ukraine

The island of Gotland in Sweden is a very popular holiday destination. The town of Visby is pictured on March 3, 2022.
Credit: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP via Getty Images

For the countries closest to Ukraine, the situation becomes a bit more complex.

Pearson estimates that about 30% of CAP customers in recent weeks have canceled or postponed trips to countries like the Czech Republic and Germany, neither of which border Ukraine. Other travelers changed their route to get away from the conflict and head towards Western Europe.

Also, says Pearson, some travelers wonder whether they should join shore excursions when traveling in Eastern Europe.

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

“This uncertainty is really difficult”

Unsurprisingly, some European tourism officials are worried about a possible disruption to travel, another setback for the beleaguered sector after two difficult years.

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

Christian Tänzler, spokesman for Visit Berlin in Germany, also said that while he expects Europeans to travel as usual across Europe for the spring and summer break while the crisis Ukrainian does not spread to other countries, the US market is more difficult. to sell.

During non-pandemic years, American travelers made up the second largest group of international tourists, behind the United Kingdom, Tänzler said.

However, in light of the current crisis, these travelers appear to be on hold when it comes to bookings, although the organization has not seen a noticeable increase in cancellations so far.

“Nobody really knows if people will start canceling because of the situation,” he said. “That uncertainty is really difficult.”

Additionally, Tänzler noted, travelers residing in the United States may not have an accurate idea of ​​the current situation in Germany, which he says is “absolutely safe.”

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

But even for travelers familiar with Europe, like Antoni, who grew up in Germany, the specter of possible nuclear war or radioactive fallout from war-damaged nuclear reactors in Ukraine can add an extra layer of unease.

It is a fear that Antoni knows firsthand: after the Chernobyl disaster in April 1986, he decides to cancel a trip from the United States to Germany with his young children.

“It was a big deal,” says Antoni, recalling warnings about potential food contamination and other health fears in Germany. “I hope, I hope, I hope it doesn’t happen again. But I always say, ‘I won’t worry until it happens. There’s no point in worrying now. ‘”

european travel

People walk in the Piazza del Campo near the Palazzo Comunale on March 4, 2022 in Siena, Italy.
Credit: MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/AFP via Getty Images

Always have a contingency plan

As some travelers reconsider their travel plans in Europe, security and risk experts say it’s always good to keep up to date with the news no matter where you’re headed. They also stress the need to have a solid plan in place in case things get tough, whether it’s coronavirus or war.

“The worst time to know what to do in a crisis is in the middle of it,” said CAP’s Pearson.

As two years of cancellations and disruptions due to the pandemic have shown, reliable travel insurance and flexible booking policies for airfare and accommodation are more important than ever.

Copies of important travel documents such as passports and vaccination certificates should be made before you travel, and U.S. citizens and nationals should be sure to enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment program , a free service that connects travelers to the embassies and consulates of their destination country. The service also provides travel and safety updates.

It is also crucial to know in advance where to go in an emergency, such as a war.

“If the war is spreading across Eastern Europe or into NATO territory, you need to have a plan to evacuate or move to a safer area,” says Tim Hentschel, co-founder and CEO of HotelPlanner, a service provider for the global hotel. hotel sales market. “Always have a contingency plan whenever you go 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 back home. It’s also important to revise regularly, he says. Also, don’t forget the basics, like knowing how to “dial the international phone number while abroad.”

Additionally, travelers to Poland or other countries that receive a large influx of refugees should be aware of the limitations of transport infrastructure and the availability of hotel rooms.

Protests and demonstrations, meanwhile, continue in Europe’s most popular tourist destinations, and while most of them are peaceful, travelers should always be vigilant and avoid conflicts with security.

Finally, while a devastating invasion and humanitarian crisis shouldn’t deter people from taking a long-awaited vacation, what’s happening in Ukraine can also offer travelers a deep sense of perspective, especially in light of the grievances common in travel, such as long waits in security lines.

“I talk to people around me who are interested in travel, and one of the things I tell them is, ‘Don’t be a mean American,'” Pearson said. “Of course, have fun, have a good time, but keep in mind that there are a lot of people recently displaced and struggling right now.”

Leave a Comment