After Covid, which is yet to be completely beaten, the tourism industry in Europe is facing another huge challenge due to the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine, which sparked the bloodiest conflict seen in European soil in decades. With the situation continuing to escalate, the World Tourism Organization is now calling Europe a ‘dangerous’ destination for visitors.
Since it started in late February, the war in Ukraine has rekindled fears a new Cold War may be looming, with flight bans and militarization of airspaces becoming prevalent. While countries in the European Union (EU), a collective of European democracies, and other NATO-aligned European countries have not been targeted directly by Russia, they are being affected all the same.
Secretary-General Of The World Tourism Organization Paints A Bleak Picture
In a further blow to the European tourism recovery, the Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Zurab Pololikashvili, has brought into question the security of Europe as a whole by stating the whole continent ‘has become a dangerous destination’ in the face of Russian aggression.
According to him, while war is being waged only in Ukrainian soil so far, all of Europe is under threat as that country ‘is in the heart of Europe’. Although Ukraine is not a member of NATO or the European Union, it is the largest country located entirely in the European continent, bordering several EU members, including Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania.
Supporting Pololikashvili’s remarks, tensions in Eastern Europe, particularly in countries neighboring Ukraine and/or that were previously under Soviet rule are noted to be high. A majority of these states are now members of major Western Alliances, though fear of Russian aggression remains accentuated even years after the decay of communism.
In the Baltic countries (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia), which were all previously under Moscow’s tight surveillance until they joined the European Union, there is growing concern they might be next on the list. Finland and Sweden, both EU members, have also been threatened by Russia, which warned them against attempting to ascend to NATO.
According to the Sergei Belyayev, head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s European Department, should Finland and Sweden join NATO, ‘there will be serious military and political consequences‘. This is a particularly worrying statement, seeing that Ukraine’s bid to be a part of NATO prompted Russia’s aggressive stance.
On March 2, Sweden already reported Russian war jets violated its airspace in spite of current bans, suggesting the Putin regime may completely disregard international law when it comes to achieving its goals of pushing back NATO borders, intimidating other European states, and forcefully suppressing the Westernization of Ukraine.
However, with the exception of Moldova, a country in Eastern europe which is neither an EU or NATO member, the United States is yet to issue a single travel advisory affecting other destinations in the region. While Americans should avoid visiting Moldova as a whole due to its proximity to the armed conflict, all EU nations on this list are still safe.
European Summer No Longer Safe From Travel Disruptions Even After Omicron
During the UNWTO Secretary General’s interview, granted to El Confidencial, the war will certainly ‘affect tourism’, as travelers again have no certainty regarding travel plans, much like during the peak of Covid. In his own words, ‘tourists now are not looking for adventure’, opting instead for places to rest and that are ‘safe’.
Although the West’s main concerns continues to be welcoming Ukrainian refugees and coordinating sanctions against the Russian President Vladimir Putin, with fighting yet to reach the streets of EU member states, the war in the East is already affecting travel on an unprecedented level. Not only European flights, but Asian itineraries have also been affected.
Reminiscing on pre-war times, Pololikashvili stated that earlier this year there was ‘a lot of optimism’ among participating countries at the International Tourism Fair (Fitur), especially within the European scope. After all, Europe as a whole has finally started rolling back restrictions on international arrivals, including Americans.
Two of Ukraine’s neighbors, Romania and Hungary, have removed all Covid-related entry requirements, with American visitors again allowed to enter under pre-pandemic rules. Conversely, these countries have been at the forefront of the Western response, securing NATO’s easternmost borders while welcoming large numbers of refugees.
Unfortunately, it is no longer safe to say travel trends across will increase by summer, as avoiding Russian airspace adds longer flight hours between certain destinations, and may even spur a wave of flight cancellations, especially between Europe/North America and Asia. For Pololikashvili, we have returned to that time of uncertainty, ‘of doubts when we can return home if we travel’.
Additionally, the Secretary-General mentions the ‘rise in prices‘, which is bound to affect travelers soon as sanctions against Russia are tightened. For now, those hoping to fulfill their Eurotrip dream could find themselves in a tense environment as large anti-war protests spread across a majority of European capitals.
Despite the UNWTO Secretary-General’s remarks, the United States continues to advise against travel to most destinations in Europe based solely on Covid risks. Nevertheless, Americans are advised to keep up to date with developments in Ukraine and neighboring nations, and be prepared to change travel plans at short-notice.
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Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictions can change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationality’s entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling. Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories