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MDX Redbeat

Revisiting Europe during a wave of the Pandemic

“Europe is the world’s number one tourist destination with more than 700 million tourists visiting the continent as of 2019. It is widely known for its landscapes, architecture, food, fashion, and the list goes on!”

I was scrolling through my phone for the 99th time that day, even though I was supposed to prepare for nearing exams. I instead chose to stare at the pictures my father sent me while he was away on a business trip to the UK during the winter of 2019. The European beauty had always charmed me.

Fast forward to 2020, as I geared up to take my last school exam, the virus took over the entire globe. Quickly, we all took shelter in our homes, stepped out wearing masks, only if necessary, and cancelled all our trips for a month, not knowing that a month or two was not going to be enough. Countries slowly shut their borders, stalling all travel and tourism.

As we cancelled our trips, we were forced to be productive or at least tried to stay productive and innovative. While some turned the kitchen into an experimental lab whipping up dalgona coffee and baking banana bread, some of us immersed ourselves in online learning programmes, fitness regimes, dusted off our books, or binged on Money Heist.

Prior to the pandemic, we travelled to make memories, close business deals, or meet near and dear ones. During this pandemic, we missed our getaways and vacations. We missed seeing pictures taken under the Eiffel Tower, by the Big Ben, on the beaches of Greece, or even stills of fans cheering for their favourite football clubs. We missed seeing the world.

Lydia Vourlidi, one of our international students from Greece, tells us, “Greece was one of the first countries in the EU (European Union) to shut its borders and go into a lockdown. All the restaurants and bars were shut down and even the most popular tourist landmarks had no one visiting.”

Whipping the  Dalgona coffee. Photo by Lisanto 李奕良 on Unsplash

Gradually, cases dipped (mask up people, it is still around), and countries slowly opened to the worst tourism and hospitality markets. The annual Gross Domestic Product hit rock bottom by the first half of the year. Tourism alone suffered a 69% dip compared to the previous year, the hospitality and airline sector being the worst-hit. By early 2021, it was apparent that opening the borders and promoting ‘safe’ tourism was necessary. As vaccines rolled out in most countries, being fully vaccinated became your passport to travel. Soon, travel began. Hotels started disinfecting their premises, hoping to provide the best for their customers.

The Eiffel Tower, the London Eye, and Rome’s cathedrals were all ready to welcome the tourists they had missed for months. While the UK hosted its first indoor event in May of 2021, the BRIT Awards – which proved to be a major success – the models were ready to hit the ramps for the fashion weeks, and fashion enthusiasts took their flights to Milan, France, and London.

A busy evening on one of the ancient streets of Rome before the pandemic Photo by Zach Dyson

Though the prevailing preventive measures and risks were numerous, people itched to travel. The new travel checklist included a few dozens of masks, sanitisers, disinfectants, your vaccination certificate, and not to forget the multiple RT-PCR tests that you must take before hopping on to the flight. Shan Ramzan Hafis, a second-year student at our university, visited the Republic of Serbia during the winter of 2021: “While we followed all the compulsory protocols of wearing the masks, sanitising frequently, and changing the outfits once back to the accommodation, it felt the same as pre-pandemic because of the fewer restrictions in the country.” He also mentions that tourism has definitely dropped due to the fewer crowds in a tourist-loved country like Serbia.

As many got the chance to travel in the last couple of months, tourism slowly but steadily increased.

Zlatibor, a popular tourist destination in Serbia. Photo by Dejan Zakic on Unsplash

While every three months, a new variant of the virus, very uniquely named, emerges in different parts of the world, preventive measures keep getting stricter for travellers. They are responsible for slowly adapting to the new normal.

Whilst many got the chance to travel in the last couple of months, tourism slowly but steadily increased.

The Schengen visa organisation says it is tough to come back to the pre-pandemic demand in travel, and they do not expect it until 2024. As with all economic hits, they also mentioned that Greece was the first to open its doors for vaccinated travellers amidst the pandemic, which was like a shining ray of hope. According to the reports, they witnessed a hike in overnight stays with only 19% lesser crowds than in 2019. Greece was not only the country that witnessed a spike in the number of tourists. Luxembourg, France, and Monaco also saw an increase in the number of incoming visitors.

According to the Bank of Spain’s latest statistics and the World Tourism Organization, Spain occupies the second position in the most visited countries after France and the second highest-earning destination behind the United States.

A popular cafe closed down during the lockdown in France. Photo by Robert Brown

Last summer was a ray of sunshine for the tourism sector in Spain. The hoteliers of the country says the summer has been a gift to them, and they have performed better than the previous year. Lydia continues, “While Greece closed its borders early, we were also the first ones in Europe to open its doors to the vaccinated tourists, as Greece is heavily dependent on tourism for their revenues. Most of the locals were vaccinated, so were the tourists, thus having a safer holiday.”

Exarcheia in Athens is known for its Graffiti art. Photo by Lydia Vourlidi

While the battle against the pandemic continues, only we can take precautions and adhere to the rules for a better future. Even though the market has not entirely revamped itself, we hope to see busier cities soon and to hop on a flight and walk with a cold coffee on the streets of Paris, Madrid, and the list goes on.

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