Hoping to return to France’s sprawling vineyards, sparkling cities, and cobblestoned towns after a year without European travel? Rejoice if you’re vaccinated: French President Emmanuel Macron is “finalizing” plans to allow inoculated Americans to visit this summer as part of a broader tourism reopening, he told CBS on ‘Face the Nation’ this Sunday. Macron also said he has briefed President Biden’s administration on the move, even as France is currently undergoing a third national lockdown that has closed schools and non-essential business, set a 7 p.m. curfew, and prohibited gatherings through the end of April.
“We will progressively lift the restrictions the beginning of May,” Macron said, for both European citizens as well as Americans. “We are working hard to propose a very concrete solution, especially for U.S. citizens who are vaccinated, so with a special pass, I would say.”
Americans have been banned from entering the European Union for nonessential reasons since March 2020 due to the United States’ high level of coronavirus cases. France has tallied more confirmed coronavirus infections than any other E.U. nation, at 5.2 million cases and 100,000 deaths. The country has so far administered 17 million initial doses of coronavirus vaccine shots, with 4.5 million people (about seven percent of France) fully vaccinated as of April 19. Those who are two weeks out from their final coronavirus shot are considered fully vaccinated.
But how fast should vaccinated francophiles be searching for that flight? Travelers hoping to travel to France this summer should temper expectations and consider what they want out of their trip, travel specialists say, which will determine if and when you should book. Here’s what experienced travel planners want you to know about going, and what Europe’s road to allowing vaccine passports for entry looks like.
How to decide if you should you book a trip, and when
Ready to hop a plane to Paris as soon as restrictions lift for vaccinated Americans? Travel specialists call the announcement by Macron great news—with a few big caveats.
“The first reaction is ‘yay, it’s great if somebody is opening up,’” says Adamarie King, a travel advisor for travel-xperts.com who has already started receiving requests for France bookings in the 24 hours since Macron’s interview aired. “But then immediately of course we start thinking about the logistics and making sure we have accurate information for our clients and don’t get them in pickle.”
Even if restrictions lift as planned, slow vaccination rates in Europe could mean further case waves and rolling restrictions throughout the summer, and the region is unlikely to get back to business as usual right away. King says travelers who are intent on getting to France can find flight and hotel availability for summer if they act fast, before pent-up demand starts selling out flights, but that those early visitors should take the May opening “with a grain of salt.” The solution: only book flexible flights and lodging in case the trip needs to be pushed back.
Early returners to France should also keep in mind their activities may be limited, says Michaela Moore, a travel specialist with Creative Vacations. “I have lots of interest from vaccinated clients, just kind of waiting for the green light to go,” Moore says. “But of course there is this third lockdown, there’s potential for other restrictions, so it’s also about making sure [you] are going to get the experiences needed to go.”
Moore advises that travelers seeking to spend all their time indoors at cultural institutions like museums, historic sites, and fine-dining restaurants—which will likely operate at lesser capacities or require and limit reservations—may want to push off their trips until 2022 to ensure they will be able to do so. Those who are more interested in sticking to outdoor activities and doing as the locals do, she says, are more likely to enjoy visiting, especially in summer, even if there are restrictions in place.
For those open to the uncertainty of their itinerary and still want to visit in summer, Moore suggests booking that flexible itinerary fast once travelers are given the go ahead. If the increasing flow of U.S. travel to the Caribbean and Mexico that came with spring-break season is any indication, she says, hotels and flights will sell out quickly once any opening announcement is made since there is so much “pent up demand” for any type of E.U. travel to reopen.
“We’re obviously excited to see the possibility [of travel to France] is slowly starting to become a reality, but even they are still not exactly sure how that will look,” Moore says. “They’re talking about a vaccine type of passport that would be required and even that is unclear, but it’s encouraging news that we’re even talking about it.”
Will you need a vaccine passport?
As for the digital vaccine certificate Macron referred to, future visitors may be able to acquire a “Green Pass” to visit France if it does reopen. European Union officials last week addressed the rollout of an approved, optional vaccine passport, called the Digital Green Certificate, which the region has developed (but not yet deployed) for official proof of vaccination and of negative test results among Europeans moving about the Schengen Area. The European Commission estimates that the digital certificate will be in use by June, its press office said in a statement Friday via email. For non-European travelers, the Commission clarified that non-essential travel to the E.U. is still largely restricted.
“At the moment, non-essential travel to the EU is restricted from third countries, except for a limited number of countries,” European Commission press officer Katarzyna Kolanko said. “Under the Commission proposals, a non-EU national who may travel to the EU can obtain a Digital Green Certificate. The non-EU national could request a Digital Green Certificate from a Member State he/she is travelling to, by providing all necessary information, including reliable proof of vaccination. The Member State would then have to assess if reliable proof has been provided and decide whether to issue a Digital Green Certificate.”
While France is subject to E.U. rules on foreign entry, Macron seems optimistic that the move will come to a head soon. “Our ministers in charge are finalizing the technical discussions” around the tourism reopening, Macron said on Sunday. “The idea is indeed to always control the virus, to maximize the vaccination, and to progressively lift the restrictions.”
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