Whether you’re getting ready for spring break or planning a summer vacation, you’ll probably want to know how the Russian invasion of Ukraine will affect your next trip.
And you’re not the only one.
As the Ukraine invasion continues, travelers have a lot of questions. They want to know if Russian airspace is open and if they can still travel to Eastern Europe. And then there’s the upcoming summer travel season, which is more uncertain than ever. No one knows what will happen next, but that hasn’t stopped the experts from making predictions.
I spent the better part of this week interviewing travel companies and travelers about the situation and published the findings in my Washington Post column. On Friday, I was a featured guest on several TV and radio broadcasts about the Russia situation. And let me tell you, the situation is pretty confusing.
More from South Africa
Here are the most common questions about travel after the Russian invasion
Is Russian airspace closed?
Effectively, yes. In his State of the Union address this week, President Biden announced he was closing American airspace to Russian planes, joining the European Union and Canada. That primarily affected Aeroflot, which operated flights to Miami, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C. In return, Russia closed its airspace in a move that could affect routes to Asia.
Can U.S. citizens travel to Russia?
Yes. But the State Department warns against it. In a Feb. 28 travel advisory, the government urged U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to Russia after what it calls the “unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine.” It also cited the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials and the U.S. Embassy’s limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia. The situation along the Ukrainian border, it added, is “dangerous and unpredictable.”
Is Russia open for tourists?
Technically, yes. If you feel it’s safe to ignore the State Department warning and can secure a visa, you can still travel to Russia as a tourist. But travel experts say it’s unlikely many Americans will continue with their plans amid the invasion. “Tourism in Europe will continue,” says Alan Fyall, the associate dean of academic affairs at the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management. “But to destinations deemed safe.”
Do I need a Covid-19 test to fly to Russia?
Foreign nationals must present a negative PCR test when boarding their plane and upon arrival in Russia at border control, according to Russian tourism officials. Tests are valid for two days only. The test sample collection date on the test result should indicate that it was taken no more than 48 hours before entering Russia. If you’re Russian, you can get tested within three days of your arrival.
How will this affect summer travel? Here’s the view from South Africa
To get an idea of how the Ukraine invasion will affect summer travel, you have to go to a place where it’s already summer: South Africa.
“People still want to travel,” says Melanie Shepherd, general manager at La Clé des Montagnes, a boutique hotel near Cape Town.
The recent omicron wave, first reported in South Africa, brought business to a standstill. But now it’s coming back. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while worrisome, hasn’t changed the trajectory of the recovery.
Ruth McCourt, marketing manager for the Franschhoek Wine Valley, says there’s finally a sense of calm in the country, at least when it comes to inbound tourism.
“And unless the war spreads to the rest of Europe, we hope it will stay that way,” she says.
The scenic wine regions north of Cape Town attract many Europeans and a few Americans, too. For a few months, it seemed like the summer travel season would be a washout. But late in the summer, the tourists suddenly reappeared.
Officials like McCourt say they’ve been surprised by the number of bookings for March and April. As a bonus, South Africa has a second season for safaris that starts in September, so there’s a high level of confidence that they’ll be able to recover some of the business lost to the omicron variant.
What’s next for travelers?
No one knows what will happen next. But when it comes to travel, experts feel confident making some predictions.
“The ban on air travel due to airspace reduction will impact travel to all neighboring European countries and U.K.,” says Mahmood Khan, a professor at Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business. “The fluctuations in the stock market, currency, and oil prices will impact allied hospitality businesses such as hotels, restaurants, and travel destinations. We can expect to see tour cancellations to Russia, Ukraine, and neighboring countries.”
Some of those things have already happened. For example, tour operator G Adventures emailed customers last week, saying that it had not only canceled all Russian trips but that it would no longer accept Russian nationals residing inside Russia for its tours.
“Unfortunately, these sanctions and forced global isolation will impact everyday people who may not agree with — and who may even be brave enough to protest — their country’s politics,” wrote Bruce Poon Tip, founder of G Adventures. “However, these sanctions are essential in order to apply pressure on the entire country and to invoke change.”
Most companies are trying to work around the problem. Ride and Seek, a tour operator, offers two bike tours in Eastern Europe. Earlier this year, founder Dylan Reynolds changed one of them, which was scheduled to end in St. Petersburg, so that it terminated in Tallinn, Estonia.
“We still ride to the Russian border but then shuttle to Tallinn for the final evening,” he says. “So far, we have not had much pushback from clients.”
Here’s how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could affect your summer vacation
So will the Russia crisis affect your spring break or summer trip? If you’re headed to Europe, almost certainly, say experts.
“Although Russia’s invasion into Ukraine is in its early stages, I believe travel to European countries will be impacted,” says Colleen Alsberg, senior destination specialist of group vacations for Fox World Travel.
Alsberg says cancellations so far have been “minimal.” But that could change if the crisis worsens.
“Our clients are ready to travel but are keeping a close eye on the situation as they make travel decisions,” she says.
Of course, veteran travelers know that a crisis can bring opportunity, too. It can mean lower airfares to affected areas, cheaper hotel rooms, and no crowds.
If you’re an adventurous contrarian, then Eastern Europe may be the perfect summer destination. The Baltic states, Scandinavia, and Poland could be a little quieter — and less expensive — than usual.