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African regional bloc loses 92 per cent tourism earnings due to Covid

Six member states of the East African Community (EAC), a regional bloc, lost 92 per cent revenues in the tourism sector due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a top official said here.

Peter Mathuki, the EAC Secretary General, said that tourist arrivals to the region fell from 6.98 million before the pandemic to 2.25 million at present, causing the losses, adding that the tourism sector was the worst hit by the health criris, reports Xinhua news agency.

“The region is now open again for business,” said Mathuki, urging EAC member states governments and other stakeholders to work together to market the region’s tourist attractions and products as part of efforts to ensure speedy recovery for the sector.

The EAC member nations are Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, South Sudan and Uganda.

“Despite the fact that the pandemic has reversed the gains that we had made in the tourism sector, we are quite confident that through collective and collaborative efforts, we should be able to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels of performance and even do better within a span of less than five years,” Mathuki told the first East African regional tourism expo in Tanzania’s northern city of Arusha, also the headquarters of the EAC.

He said that the region had drawn a number of important lessons from the pandemic especially in relation to the economic sectors that were hard hit.

“One lesson that stands out and resonates with most destinations around the world is the need to entrench resilience in the tourism sector,” said Mathuki, adding that the EAC will take a number of steps to enhance recovery in the sector.

Tourism is one of the most significant sectors in all the economies of the EAC region.

The sector contributes an average of about 17 per cent to export earnings and its contribution to GDP is quite substantial averaging at around 10 per cent.

It generates about 7 per cent of employment in the region. Moreover, tourism has important linkages with other sectors of the economy including agriculture, manufacturing, insurance, and finance among others.


Hotel stocks in demand

Shares of 11 hotel companies rose by 1.10% to 15.94% after the Indian government announced that it will start issuing tourist visas from 15 October 2021.Kamat Hotels (up 15.94%), Lemon Tree Hotel (up 7.82%), Indian Hotels Company (up 4.41%), Asian Hotels (North) (up 4.15%), EIH Associated Hotels (up 3.53%), Chalet Hotels (up 2.91%), TajGVK Hotels (up 2.74%), Asian Hotels (West) (up 2.05%), EIH (up 1.57%), ITDC (up 1.17%) and Asian Hotels (East) (up 1.10%) jumped.

India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Thursday said it will begin granting fresh tourist visas to foreigners coming to India through chartered flights with effect from 15 October 2021. Foreign tourists travelling to India by flights other than chartered aircraft will be able to do so with effect from 15 November 2021.

“With this, the restrictions placed on visa and international travel stand further eased given the present overall COVID-19 situation,” the home ministry statement added.

All visas granted to foreigners were suspended last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Various other restrictions were also imposed on international travel by the central government to arrest the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Vietnam to fully reopen by June

Hanoi — Vietnam is planning to reopen key tourist destinations to vaccinated visitors from countries deemed a low COVID-19 risk from December, the government said on Wednesday, October 6, ahead of a full resumption targeted for June next year.Vietnam imposed tight border controls at the start of the pandemic in an effort to keep out COVID-19, with some initial success, but that harmed its burgeoning tourism sector, which typically accounts for about 10% of gross domestic product.Last month, the country announced it would reopen the resort island Phu Quoc for vaccinated travelers from November.

Fom December, Vietnam will also allow tourists from approved countries to visit UNESCO world heritage site Halong Bay and Hoi An, the highlands town of Dalat and beach destination Nha Trang. It is not yet clear which countries will meet the criteria.”We are only open when it’s truly safe,” the government said in a statement.”We are moving step by step, cautiously but flexibly to adapt to real situations of the pandemic.”The move follows similar steps taken by neighboring Thailand, which will next month expand locations in its pilot scheme to allow vaccinated visitors.

Foreign arrivals to Vietnam fell to 3.8 million last year down from 18 million in 2019, when tourism revenue was $31 billion, equivalent to 12% of GDP.The country is trying to speed up COVID-19 vaccinations, with just 13% of its 98 million people inoculated so far, one of the lowest rates in Asia.


Australia won’t welcome foreign tourists until at least 2022

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Foreign tourists won’t be welcomed back to Australia until at least next year, the prime minister said Tuesday as he outlined plans for lifting some of the toughest and longest COVID-19 travel restrictions imposed by any democracy.

The country will instead prioritize the return of skilled migrants and students after it hits Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s benchmark for reopening its external borders: the full vaccination of 80% of the population aged 16 and older. It is expected to reach that point Tuesday.

The news comes just days after Morrison announced plans to allow vaccinated citizens and permanent residents to fly overseas from November for the first time since March 2020.

The severe travel restrictions, which have trapped most Australians at home and kept most foreigners out, have led to the lowest level of immigration since World War II. Australian universities, which rely heavily on fees paid by international students, have been particularly hard hit, and many fear students will go elsewhere if they are not allowed in soon.

While many countries imposed strict lockdowns that shut down large portions of the economies, Australia’s travel restrictions have kept life fairly normal for much of the pandemic — though it is now experiencing shutdowns in the biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, as well as the capital Canberra.

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Foreign tourists won’t be welcomed back to Australia until at least next year, the prime minister said Tuesday as he outlined plans for lifting some of the toughest and longest COVID-19 travel restrictions imposed by any democracy.

The country will instead prioritize the return of skilled migrants and students after it hits Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s benchmark for reopening its external borders: the full vaccination of 80% of the population aged 16 and older. It is expected to reach that point Tuesday.

The news comes just days after Morrison announced plans to allow vaccinated citizens and permanent residents to fly overseas from November for the first time since March 2020.

The severe travel restrictions, which have trapped most Australians at home and kept most foreigners out, have led to the lowest level of immigration since World War II. Australian universities, which rely heavily on fees paid by international students, have been particularly hard hit, and many fear students will go elsewhere if they are not allowed in soon.

While many countries imposed strict lockdowns that shut down large portions of the economies, Australia’s travel restrictions have kept life fairly normal for much of the pandemic — though it is now experiencing shutdowns in the biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, as well as the capital Canberra. ADVERTISEMENT

The rules imposed a high emotional burden in a country where half the population was born overseas or has at least one immigrant parent. Families were separated, and some grandparents have been barred from meeting grandchildren in Australia who are now approaching 2 years old.

After lifting restrictions on Australians, Morrison said the next priority would be skilled migrants and international students — before tourists. He did not specify when those groups would be allowed in.

“We will get to international visitors as well, I believe next year,” Morrison said.

The Australian Tourism Export Council, which represents a sector that made 45 billion Australian dollars ($33 billion) a year from international tourists before the pandemic, wants international visitors to return by March.

Australian tourism operators — which have suffered not only from the ban on international tourism but also frequent internal pandemic border restrictions — are frustrated that there aren’t more details of how leisure travel will resume.

“International tourist arrivals have to be part of the plan,” said Daniel Gschwind, chief executive of the Queensland Tourism Industry Council, Queensland state’s peak advocacy group. “Even if they’re not the first priority, we’d like to see how this is going to be worked out. There are many businesses that are just hanging on.”

Gschwind that his sector needed to plan for how the COVID-19 risk could be managed, perhaps through rapid testing and self-isolation.

There are a few exceptions to Australia’s travel ban — and tourism has never been accepted as a reason to cross the border. Those who have been able to enter must spend two weeks in hotel quarantine. That would represent a major obstacle if it remains even after tourists are allowed.

Morrison said last week that his government would work toward “complete quarantine-free travel for certain countries, such as New Zealand, when it is safe to do so.” He did not elaborate on the timing.

Australia and New Zealand briefly shared a quarantine-free travel bubble when both countries were essentially free of COVID-19 transmission.

But New Zealand reintroduced quarantine after Australian authorities lost control of an outbreak of the highly-contagious delta variant, which was brought to Sydney in June by a U.S. air crew.

The delta variant has changed the game in many countries that previously were able to largely keep the virus at bay with very strict travel rules, including New Zealand. On Monday, that country’s government acknowledged for the first time that it can no longer completely get rid of the coronavirus.

Australia is continuing to battle outbreaks, while also racing to inoculate its population. Its vaccination rollout was initially slow but has picked up.

Victoria state on Tuesday reported a national record 1,763 new local infections. Australia’s second-most populous state also reported four COVID-19 deaths.

The previous national record of 1,599 infections in 24 hours was set by New South Wales when its outbreak peaked on Sept. 10. Hospitalizations peaked in Australia’s most populous state in mid-September.

New South Wales leads the other states in vaccination rates and Sydney’s airport is expected to be the first to reopen to vaccinated travelers.


Creating change agents of hospitality

There is no doubt that the pandemic has changed the hospitality industry and its people. It was a change in which we ended up being mainly passive observers – powerless to change the course of the pandemic, government decisions, and the impact that the pandemic was having on travelling and purchasing decisions of our guests.

The impact of this change financially in the UK is estimated by UKHospitality at £80.8bn of lost sales in the first 12 months of Covid. However, we are yet to see the full impact on the staffing levels, industry staff retention and the health and wellbeing of those who have stayed loyal to hospitality and worked all the way through these challenges.

Hospitality response – makers of our own destiny

Once we had gone through all the stages of the Kubler-Ross change curve (a model used by individuals and organisations to help people understand their reactions to significant change or loss), we could see the hospitality spirit waking up and businesses and individuals taking the change processes in their own hands.

We could see amazing Michelin star takeaway menus, hotel premises being repurposed, teams that have never worked remotely being amazingly agile and finding ways to efficiency in the new circumstances.

We could see amazing Michelin star takeaway menus, hotel premises being repurposed, teams that have never worked remotely being amazingly agile and finding ways to efficiency in the new circumstances.

Agile change management approach

The key in the survival and the faster recovery for some of the organisations Umbrella Training has been working with is the choice to be an active player with a holistic approach to change management.

Rather than mothballing the development programmes and investment plans, these organisations decided to support their people through the change curve and apply concepts like resilient leadership, agile communication, stronger partnering with stakeholders and utilising blended learning models.

This comprehensive set of actions is outlined by Deloitte management consultants in their comprehensive report “Combating COVID-19 with an agile change management approach” that was recently published as one of the pathways to success in keeping the organisation competitive.

Why do we need to continue to change in an agile manner?

The world around is not waiting for us to settle in our new working environments. Just as we think we have settled on a course of action – things evolve and require us to adjust.

Melanie Franklin, a highly respected thought leader in change management and firm advocate of agile change management techniques, explains that the frequency of change generated by agile approaches is far higher and that, when adopting this, we create mini waves of change.

These mini waves of change all contribute to successful adaptation to new ways of working. The most important part is supporting people whilst riding on these waves of change, and allowing them to be part of it from the very beginning. Hospitality can embrace this.

Issues with change and change initiatives

Despite change being the only constant we can rely on, humans have not taken easily to this definition. Change brings with it fear of losing status, fear of being able to use the new technology, being able to learn new ways of working. The majority of people dislike change because of the perceived uncertainty that it brings with it. We’ve seen this across business over the course of the pandemic period. Managing change successfully has become one of the key leadership skills in the hospitality industry today.

Making change management more effective

It is paramount for the organisations involved in the change to support their stakeholders by providing the following:

  • Information – at every stage of the process and in a format relevant to their audience.
  • Involvement – asking for feedback and input; working on hearing all the voices who will be impacted by the change.
  • Support – open doors policy for people to be able to explore their personal challenges with change.
  • Structure – clarity on how the change will work, who to speak to if they have issues, how to get involved, what the desired outcome of the change should be.

Role of the apprenticeships in managing change

Author and entrepreneur Seth Godin, has said: “Our job is obvious: We need to get out of the way, shine a light, and empower a new generation to teach itself and to go further and faster than any generation ever has.”

Apprentices are perfect change agents. They have capacity to be critical friends, they bring different perspective to a business and by developing future-fit skills like agility and autonomy – we are building future leaders who are not afraid of agile change.

Apprentices can support businesses with horizon-scanning and scan the external environment to help predict changes in the labour market. Apprenticeship programmes can be a perfect platform to support changes to processes, performance expectations and culture in general. Apprentices can be emissaries of change, sharing their experience and engaging others in the organisation that might have a more stagnant view.

There is always a temptation to go down the route of a path well-travelled. What if we empowered our apprentices to be change generators? Talent attraction, recruitment days, training – these are great examples where your apprentices could help you create new waves of change by hearing their voices.


The slow pace of digital transformation in hospitality

The hospitality industry must adapt quickly in order to survive. This is the warning following new research that shows 63% of hospitality operators don’t believe their business has invested enough in digitalisation.

These are findings from The Digital Transformation of Hospitality Report 2021, a new study published by Vita Mojo, an award-winning technology company and former restaurant business, in partnership with Hospitality Mavericks and KAM Media.

The new report, based on a survey of over 4,000 hospitality sites, urges hospitality businesses to act now and use digital transformation to support labour shortages and long term growth.

Michael Tingsager, Founder of Hospitality Mavericks says, “We’re facing major challenges recruiting talent due to Brexit and Covid. A lot of great talent is exiting our industry and we need to look at what we can do to keep them. Technology can be a key part of the solution and the benefits can be far-reaching.”

Hospitality operators are concerned about the lack of investment in digital transformation and skills. One operator said, “We have a lack of know-how and knowledge of digital in general. We are too busy with running the business to learn digital skills and we’re terrified of making mistakes.”

With 73% of operators agreeing that hospitality is behind other industries when it comes to digital transformation it is clear more work is needed. The report shows:

  • Fewer than 10% of operators believe their current technology systems are fully integrated, which adds complexity for operators.
  • Only 1 in 5 operators believe they are getting the most out of their customer data – most don’t know what to do with the data they have.
  • Only 20% have a set budget for digital transformation.

Katy Moses, Founder & MD of KAM Media, says, “With the endless restrictions placed on the industry during the pandemic, digitalisation in hospitality has been key to its survival. But our research suggests the pace at which the sector is equipping its workforce with new digital skills and investing in tech is way behind where it needs to be. Both operators and customers see hospitality as well behind other industries when it comes to the effective use of technology.”

Hugo Engel from LEON, one of the UK’s fastest growing high street brands said, “LEON adopted a digital-first mindset before the pandemic and it has transformed our business and enabled us to continue to grow throughout. We are now in the middle of rolling out kiosks across more restaurants, this is not to replace people in store, but to enable our teams to focus on what they do best, welcoming and serving guests in the most efficient way possible.”

Commenting on the report, Nick Popovici, CEO and Co-Founder of Vita Mojo says, “As ex-operators turned technology providers, we wanted to get a sense of where things were following the pandemic and the digital rush that ensued. Based on the research, it’s clear that the industry has had a massive shake up so now we need to look at what we can do to support that.

“Digitalisation and technology are ‘part’ of the solution to labour shortages. The best technology adds to the human experience and when implemented properly, it can stimulate business growth, which in turn creates more jobs. That’s how we need to be thinking. It’s not about technology to replace people in the industry, it’s about technology to support and keep people in the industry.”


Expert’s Voice: Top ten F&B revenue-management tips for hotel restaurants

Silvie Cohen and David Israel of hotelAVE suggest practical measures that hotel restaurants can adopt to boost their top lines and minimise the impact of spiralling costs.

As restaurants emerge from the Covid19 pandemic, operators remain challenged by nationwide labour shortages, the rising cost of wages and the increasing cost of goods.

To mitigate these bottom-line issues, just like hotels and airlines deploy revenue-management techniques to push sales, there are strategies F&B teams can deploy to optimise their top line as well. This article takes you through F&B revenue-management tips to help restauranteurs improve profitability.

Top ten F&B revenue-management tips for hotel restaurants:

  • Prix-Fixe menus: Explore offering a fixed three-course menu for a set price, which will help drive average check. This is a popular option for weekday lunch as well as weekend brunch (bottomless brunch) or family / holiday meals.
  • Dynamic pricing: Evaluate surge pricing based on demand levels or meal period to drive incremental revenue (weekday versus weekend, lunch versus dinner). Given the increased use of digital / mobile menus (eg utilising QR codes), this strategy can be implemented with minimal cost.
  • Entrée additions: Highlight certain additions to entrées on the menu. For example, provide the option to get bacon added to a burger, a fourth taco (if the dish serves three) or egg-white substitutions amongst other combinations for an additional upcharge. If it is highlighted on the menu, guests are likely to order it.
  • Time management: Consider the length of time customers sit at their table to maximise the amount of turns during service. Set table limits or provide express meal options (eg one-hour power lunch) to optimise the number of covers the restaurant does during certain meal periods. Offer additional points or incentives via reservation systems (OpenTable, Resy, etc) to motivate guests to book at off-peak hours. Allow guests to pay via mobile QR code to expedite the checkout process.
  • Hotel cross-collaboration: Incentivise hotel guests to come to the restaurant via offering different benefits. Destination fees: If the hotel has a destination fee, include F&B offerings within the fee to encourage guests to come to the restaurant. Data suggests a modest discount or free drink / appetiser generates substantial incremental revenue from hotel guests when offered. Prioritise hotel guests: Offer guests priority seating and reservation access to drive covers.
  • Competitive price shop: Complete a quarterly shop of comparable food, beverage and event prices within the competitive set. Be sure to evaluate if menu prices are too low or too high and adjust, as necessary.
  • Find menu ‘stars’: Evaluate product mix (PMIX) and menu costing to understand which menu items are highly profitable and sell (eg French fries). Train servers to understand which items they should be selling in real time based on inventory and pricing (eg avoid guacamole if there is an avocado shortage). Eliminate loss-leaders during high-demand periods and eliminate menu items that take a long time to cook or require additional culinary / front-of-house resources to execute.
  • Lucrative happy hours: Provide enticing happy-hour offerings to increase foot traffic in the early hours post-work. Another creative option includes offering a ‘reverse happy hour’, which is reduced pricing during later evening hours (starting at 9pm versus 4pm). Utilise limited menus with enticing offers (US$1 oysters, half-off cocktails, etc).
  • Ancillary spend: Give guests the option to purchase their favourite restaurant items to take home (eg homemade cookies, make-it-yourself pasta kits, Bloody Mary mix, etc).
  • Flexible seating: Evaluate flexible seating options to ensure four-tops can be turned into two-tops to mitigate lost revenue due to differences between party size and available seating.


Radisson Hotel Group announces a record year in Africa, with 13 hotels and 2,500 rooms signed to date

Radisson Hotel Group (, one of the world’s leading hotel groups, is proud to announce a hotel expansion record in Africa with 13 signings to date, translating to a new hotel signed every 20 days. The Group’s expansion drive, adding 2,500 rooms to its African portfolio, includes the announcement of nine hotels in Morocco, the Group’s debut in Djibouti and the introduction of the Radisson Individuals brand in Africa. Adding to this expansion milestone, the Group has also opened five hotels to date this year, including Africa’s second Radisson RED in South Africa and four Radisson Blu resort offerings in Morocco.

With additional hotel signings and a further three openings in Africa expected before year end, Radisson Hotel Group remains prudently optimistic regarding the business recovery within the last quarter of 2021. The Group’s aggressive expansion places them firmly on track to boost the current African portfolio of almost 100 hotels currently in operation and under development to its ambition of 150 hotels by 2025. As part of the expansion strategy, the Group has put forward growth priorities across key markets such as Morocco, Egypt and South Africa.

From a single hotel in Africa 20 years ago, Radisson Hotel Group’s current African portfolio of almost 100 hotels in operation and under development is located in more than 30 countries across the continent, cementing the Group’s leading position as the hotel company with the largest active presence in the most countries across Africa.

The 13 signings, reinforcing the Group’s expansion strategy, have secured a record growth in Morocco with an additional nine hotels, comprising of two hotels in Casablanca, including the debut of the Radisson brand with the Radisson Hotel Casablanca Gauthier La Citadelle and the recent partnership established with Madaëf which translates to seven additional hotels across key leisure destinations in the country. The group has also announced the launch of their first project, the Earl Heights Suite Hotel, a member of Radisson Individuals in Accra, Ghana joining their new affiliation brand; their market entry in Victory Falls with the introduction of Radisson Blu Resort Mosi-Oa-Tunya Livingstone as well as another new entry with Radisson Hotel Djibouti. The most recent announcement was the Radisson Hotel Middleburg which further complements the Group’s presence across South Africa.

These hotel signings equate to almost 2,500 rooms, most of which are in the Group’s core focus countries, especially across Morocco, with the remainder reinforcing their presence in cluster markets or entering into new territories.

Ramsay Rankoussi, Vice President, Development, Africa & Turkey at Radisson Hotel Group, said:For the remainder of the year, we will continue to build on the success and momentum we’ve had thus far, with a continued focus on our identified key markets, specifically Morocco, Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa. We aim to further accelerate our presence across the continent through both new build and conversions, especially post-pandemic, as there is less liquidity for newer developments. We therefore seek to form wider partnerships and strategic ventures with local or regional chains and forge ahead with our city scale and critical mass strategy. The execution of our strategy with clear priorities will equally support in achieving positive economic efficiencies and synergies operationally across all our existing and future hotels, further unlocking value to our owners. We have also demonstrated the relevant flexibility in addressing the current investment climate by providing not only tailored solutions to every project but also rationalizing our relationships with our investors to assess the best timings in terms of openings and the right budget allocation in terms of segment, space program and development cost.

“Africa is mainly led by business hotels, but with the recent signings, we have expanded our leisure offerings and serviced apartments which has not only proven resilient during COVID-19 but is also fueling a faster recovery. Our ambitions are driven by creating critical mass in each of our identified focus markets but also ensuring market proximity. These regions are sub divided based on priorities, focus and potential scale.”

“Despite the current situation and supporting our robust expansion strategy, our teams are working tirelessly to realize the pipeline, with eight hotel openings in Africa this year. We have already opened five hotels, consisting of four of the seven hotels we’ve just announced in Morocco, which consist of resorts and residences as well the opening of Africa’s second Radisson RED hotel in Rosebank. The remaining three hotels, all due to open before year-end, represent our debut in Madagascar with a portfolio of three hotels.”

Building on the success of the Group’s five-year expansion and transformation plan, Radisson Hotel Group is ready for the rebound of travel and remains firmly committed to becoming the brand of choice for owners, partners, and guests.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Radisson Hotel Group.


Biden’s ‘incomprehensible’ travel ban on European visitors widens transatlantic rift

Last week, France became the latest European nation to issue travel restrictions on unvaccinated American visitors. The move prompted outraged responses from some, but many Europeans seemed to believe that the move was America’s just deserts.

The issue for wary Europeans isn’t just the United States’ persistently high national coronavirus case numbers, or the lingering pockets of anti-vaccination sentiment that have seen an immunization front-runner become a laggard. It’s that most Europeans, vaccinated or not, have been banned from the United States since March 14, 2020: more than 550 days and counting.

The U.S. ban — which affects most European visitors, but not American citizens, permanent residents and a limited number of visa holders flying from Europe — was imposed in the early days of the pandemic under President Donald Trump. Many Europeans believed President Biden would lift the ban soon after taking office. He didn’t. Later, some speculated he would do so after he visited Brussels or when he hosted German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington, around the time that Europe and Britain lifted most of their own blanket restrictions. Still, no policy change.

Even as foreign diplomats and leaders descend on New York for the U.N. General Assembly and the nation prepares to host a summit on vaccination next week, the United States has proved unwilling to relax its rules for a wider group of travelers.

“Given where we are today in terms of the delta variant both here and around the world — we are maintaining the existing travel restrictions at this point,” White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients told a meeting with representatives from the U.S. travel industry.

Some Europeans see no hope on the horizon for a lifting of the ban. “At this point, it’s really just incomprehensible,” said Benjamin Haddad, director of the Europe Center at the Atlantic Council.

With little sign of change, tensions are flaring. The Times of London recently dubbed the policy “Kafkaesque” and indicative of “political cowardice.” European diplomats are increasingly speaking out, with at least one E.U. official canceling a planned trip to the United States in protest of the restrictions.

Even though Trump was the one who slammed the door on Europe, it is Biden who is keeping it shut. And the restriction’s continued existence threatens to widen a somewhat surprising transatlantic rift that has arisen during the Biden administration. Many Europeans had looked to Biden with enthusiasm after the “America First” policies of his predecessor but have been angered by unilateral moves on Afghanistan and other issues.

The Trump administration moved to lift the travel restrictions in January, but Biden’s team quickly reinstated them. There was little controversy at the time: Vaccinations were only just beginning, a devastating winter wave of covid-19 was sweeping the United States and Europe, and many countries’ borders were closed to most American travelers anyway.

By summer, that had changed. In June, the European Union announced it would recommend lifting restrictions on U.S. travelers, and U.S. citizens packed Parisian cafes and Aegean beaches. But if Europe was expecting reciprocity, it found itself disappointed.

Administration officials pointed to a new wave of coronavirus cases in the United States, driven by the delta variant, as justification for keeping the ban intact. “Given where we are today … with the delta variant, we will maintain existing travel restrictions at this point,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on July 26 — almost exactly the same language used by her colleague Zients nearly two months later.

That rationale has grown weaker as time has progressed. Many European countries are far more widely vaccinated than the United States and have seen their daily coronavirus case numbers dip as a result. The delta variant is as dominant as it is likely to get in the United States, where large pockets of unvaccinated people already provided fertile ground, and cases are far higher than in Europe.

There were never any requirements for testing and quarantine that would have stopped a delta-spreading U.S. citizen traveling back from Europe. Meanwhile, other nations with lower vaccination rates and coronavirus waves do not currently face U.S. travel restrictions: Some, such as Serbia or Mexico, have served as popular stop-off points for Europeans traveling to the United States with the time and means.

Much of the public opposition to the restrictions has focused on the personal impact, with the hashtag #LoveIsNotTourism on social media detailing accounts of divided families and missed life events, from births to deaths. But the economic impact on America is clear, too, with airlines, tourism-reliant businesses and European-owned companies complaining of losses. One industry estimate for the net losses from all U.S. coronavirus travel restrictions stands at $198 million per day.

One European official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid hurting ongoing negotiations, said the United States had simply “missed their moment” because of bureaucratic inertia over the summer. But some pinned part of the blame on the E.U. for unilaterally lifting measures on American travelers this summer. “I think the Europeans were a bit naive to expect automatic reciprocity from the United States,” said Haddad.

Now, with travel restrictions favored by Republicans and coronavirus anxiety common among Democrats, it may be politics, rather than science, that stops Biden from changing course. “If protecting Biden’s political flank is the criterion, as it may very well be, these and other border restrictions could remain frozen until 2022 U.S. midterm elections,” economist Edward Alden wrote for Foreign Policy this week.

Indeed, the U.S. travel restrictions may be more a reflection of what is happening inside American borders than outside. The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the administration was debating a plan to require proof of vaccination for domestic or international air travel, but that there were concerns about travel disruption and the persistent Republican opposition to vaccine mandates.

Any concern about political backlash might be misplaced. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) tweeted last week that the policy “makes no sense” and called for vaccinated Europeans to be allowed into the United States.

Conservative groups have criticized the policy, too. The American Enterprise Institute’s Stan Veuger has dubbed the restrictions “not just bizarre and cruel, but ineffective too,” while the National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke has said that Biden should end the policy as soon as possible. “Fit it with concrete shoes and send it to the bottom of the ocean,” Cooke wrote.

It’s hard to imagine that reopening international travel will happen without some kind of system for recognizing foreign vaccines. Last week, the World Health Organization seemed to point the way, urging national governments to recognize all vaccines that have received WHO Emergency Use Listing so that they could avoid “chaos, confusion and discrimination.”

Speaking on Wednesday, Zients said the administration was working on a “new system” that could include “vaccination requirements for foreign nationals traveling to the United States,” as well as improved approaches to testing and surveillance. What that means is not yet clear, but here the Biden administration may have to think a little less American — and a little more French.


Cuba, Israel and Phu Quoc announce reopening plans

Fall is almost here, we’re approaching our seventh season of living with a pandemic, and yes, it still sucks. Never mind, though, as CNN Travel is here as always to sharpen your pencils, straighten your rucksack and get you schooled in our weekly roundup of the latest developments in pandemic travel news.

1. France has banned unvaccinated American travelers

France has become the latest European country — and the most significant tourism destination — to remove the United States from its safe travel list, following EU recommendations in the wake of a US Covid spike.

A French government decree issued on Thursday bumped the United States and Israel from the country’s “green” list, down to “orange,” effectively prohibiting nonessential travel to France for unvaccinated visitors.However, the caution is reciprocated. France was added to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s highest-category risk list — “Level 4: Covid-19 very high” — back on August 9, meaning US citizens are already advised to avoid nonessential travel there.

2. And Spain has done the same

In a change from policy earlier this summer, Spain is allowing tourists from the United States only if they are fully vaccinated, the health ministry told CNN on Tuesday.The new rule, which took effect this week, states that visitors from the United States on “nonessential travel,” such as tourism, must show “a vaccination certificate that the (Spanish) Ministry of Health recognizes as valid.”Like France, Spain is on CDC’s highest-risk Level 4.

3. Cuba will start to reopen its borders in November

Cuba’s state-run media has announced that the island will begin to reopen borders in November, despite a recent surge in Covid cases. Cuba has been closed for much of the pandemic, which has hit the local tourism industry hard. According to Cuba’s Ministry of Health, more than four million people on the island have been fully vaccinated with the island’s home-grown vaccines.A statement from the Ministry of Tourism that was published on Monday in the Communist-party newspaper Granma said that Cuba will gradually reopen borders starting November 15 and will no longer require travelers to take a PCR test upon arrival.

4. Israel will reopen to small groups of tourists this month

An Israeli pilot program to kick-start tourism will allow small foreign tour groups from selected countries, reports Reuters. Fully vaccinated tour groups of between 5 and 30 people from countries on Israel’s green, yellow and orange lists will be allowed to enter the country, the tourism ministry said on September 5. Individual tourists will still not be allowed to enter outside of a tour group, with exceptions being made for people visiting family members.

5. The Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc will reopen next month

Vietnam has taken a tough line with its Covid restrictions — this week a man was jailed for five years for spreading the virus — but there are still plans to revive its tourism industry. Authorities hope to reopen the island getaway of Phu Quoc to foreign tourists from next month, for a trial period of six months. The 222-square-mile island is known for its stunning beaches, including Sao Beach, Long Beach and Ong Lang Beach.

6. Jamaica and Sri Lanka have been added to the US ‘do not travel’ list

Two tropical islands half a world apart and popular with tourists — Jamaica in the Caribbean and Sri Lanka in South Asia — are the latest additions to the CDC’s ever-expanding list of the highest-risk destinations for Covid-19.They join the likes of Greece, Portugal, the UK, Ireland, South Africa, Thailand, the Bahamas and many other much-loved vacation spots.

7. The UK government was blasted for long lines at London Heathrow

Last weekend saw huge lines at London’s Heathrow Airport as families returned from trips abroad in time for the new school term. Social media erupted, with some claiming to have been kept waiting for hours.The airport press office criticized British Border Force on September 4 saying, “We are very sorry that passengers faced unacceptable queuing times in immigration last night (September 3) due to too few Border Force officers on duty.” The UK government might scrap its travel traffic light system within weeks, the BBC reports, and could be replaced with a new strategy that would allow vaccinated travelers to go quarantine-free to countries with similarly high levels of vaccination as the UK.

8. Time Out has named its ‘best cities in the world’

San Francisco — renowned for its booming tech industry, sumptuous restaurant scene and THAT bridge — has been crowned the “world’s best” city, according to Time Out.Time Out says San Francisco’s “unbeatable combination of progressiveness, acceptance and sustainability” clinched it the top spot. It was also applauded by Time Out for its response to the pandemic, and for boasting one of the highest vaccination rates in the US.

9. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will be a bit more like normal this year

The world-famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will return to a more traditional route in 2021 and the public will once again be able to line the streets of Manhattan to watch.However, masks will be required for volunteer participants and staff and a vaccine mandate will apply, with few exceptions. Public viewing locations, entry guidelines and restrictions will be announced in November.

10. Delta Air Lines says the stick part of its ‘carrot and stick’ strategy is working

US airline Delta announced in late August that, while it wasn’t mandating vaccinations for employees, after November 1 those who weren’t jabbed would face a company health insurance increase of up to $200 a month. The company reported Friday that since the announcement, its employee vaccination rate has already shot up from 74% to 79% — a big leap in around two weeks. There remain around 20,000 unvaccinated Delta employees.