May 6, 2020

Travel bubbles: Who's welcome; who's not when the world reopens

Staying put on Seattle's Lake Union

“If you live in Seattle, you stay in Seattle. If you live in Portland, you stay in Portland." 

That's the message the Seattle Times reported coming from a county commissioner in Washington State to would-be visitors to the Long Beach Peninsula resort area on the Pacific Ocean.

A leaflet placed on car windshields by the manager of a WorldMark time share condo was more blunt.

“Your vacation is not worth our lives. Go home. Stay home. Save lives," he wrote.

Normally these people are busy courting tourists with small-town pleasures such as clam fests and kite festivals. 

Now they would rather visitors stay away. The county is relatively free of the coronavirus, and officials would like to keep it that way.

They're hardly alone, as resort areas within states, states themselves and even countries  think about creating "travel bubbles" that would restrict who can move around within their boundaries.

With stay-at-home orders still in effect in many states, the concerns are understandable. Whether travel restrictions will be enforceable is another matter. 

Pacific County, where Long Beach is located, has the second-highest percentage of second homeowners in the state. Do they have a right to use their homes? What will stop people from cities flocking to rural havens for summer vacations? 

Most experts agree that blanket prohibitions against crossing state or county lines would violate the U.S. constitution, but local jurisdictions are within their rights to establish public health measures such as requiring temperature checks or requiring quarantines. 

Maine just joined Hawaii in requiring anyone entering or returning to the state to self-isolate for two weeks. Maine's decree extends at least through July. Hawaii hasn't yet indicated a timetable for extending its order. 

One survey identified travelers' main concerns as catching or spreading COVID-19; mobility and restrictions; and ability to fully enjoy destination.

The third point resonates the most with me. For now, that seems to point towards destinations having to do more with natural surroundings than big cities. Travelers will have choices once again. When the time comes to venture out, most will likely start with local and regional destinations where they feel safe and welcome.

International travel

Expect to see bubbles pop up when it comes to international travel. Countries can use immigration laws to restrict travel from areas where the virus is spreading, and Americans could find they are not among the first invited to return. 

With cases still rising in the U.S., and no national policy on testing or social-distancing, it's hard to see other countries putting out the welcome mat without restrictions. These could include proof of a testing negative for Covid19, temperature checks, cell phone tracking information and self- quarantine requirements. It could also depend on when and how the U.S lifts bans currently in place on travelers from Canada, China, the UK and some parts of Europe. 

The Greek minister of tourism said that the country will prepare to take in foreign tourists beginning in July, but that the arrivals will not be from all over the world, and testing negative for coronavirus will likely be a requirement for entry.

Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told CNN that he wants international, or at least European, standards that set the same travel protocols for all countries.

"I would assume that people will be tested before they get on a plane, not after they arrive here. "They can only get on the plane with a negative test, or with a positive antibody test," he said.

Greece is talking about requiring the tests to be taken no earlier than 72 hours before travel. Where will you get one when the times comes? Airports, likely, and at a steep price. People traveling through the Vienna Airport can already get them at departure and on arrival. The test results are available in around three hours, and cost around $200.

New Zealand and Australia have talked about creating a travel bubble that would allow people to move between the two countries, but restrict others. Under proposed new rules, passengers arriving at airports in the UK- including returning UK citizens - would have to provide an address where they will agree to self-isolate for 14 days, a move that the trade group, Airlines UK, "would effectively kill international travel." 

The European Union has indicated it will extend its current ban on non-essential travel by foreigners at least until September, while French President Emmanuel Macron raised the idea of keeping EU borders closed for six months, and said his country will limit major international travel for its own citizens this summer.

Perhaps the first country to welcome Americans back might be Mexico where tourism generates 17 percent of Mexico's GDP- a larger percentage than any emerging country other than Thailand. 

Negative perceptions pushed by the U.S. government aside, Mexico ranks 20th on a list of countries in numbers of virus cases. There has been speculation that the government has been under-reporting its cases, especially those in Mexico City, but the country still is doing far better than the U.S., which ranks first in the world with 1.2 million, and better than Portugal, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada or Belgium. 

Mexico has begun to plan a new marketing campaign aimed at the United States, Europe and parts of Asia, to be rolled out as soon as the virus ebbs. 

A historical mural in Oaxaca's Palacio de Gobierno 

Tourism Secretary Miguel Torruco Marqués has outlined what the campaign will look like. One tag line: “Mexico needs you.”

They do, and for that reason, it could soon be easier to plan a vacation south of the border than anywhere in the U.S.  


  1. Unfortunately Mexico is getting ahead of itself. The picture is not as rosy as the government and tourism board would like us to believe...

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  3. In the section on international travel, it says, "Greece is talking about requiring the tests to be taken no later than 72 hours before travel." Should it say "... no earlier than...?"