Cruise Clients Wondering About EU Visas? CLIA Stresses That No Decision Has Been Made

Should cruise clients be concerned about recent media reports stating that they'll possibly need visas to enter European countries this summer? CLIA says not at this point, as the EU Commission hasn't yet voted to make such a change.(Photo by Susan J Young)

While media reports last week were filled with news of the European Parliament’s call for visas for U.S. citizens to be reintroduced, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) says it's not a done deal yet.

So, for now at least, cruisers needn't worry about it. CLIA Europe put out a statement, which said:   

"U.S. citizens can still travel to the European Union without a visa and this will continue for the foreseeable future. The media has raised awareness of recent actions taken by the European Parliament but they are not legally binding and have yet to be considered by the European Commission.

John Gawne, an independent vacation specialist, Cruises Inc. in Virginia Beach, VA, concurs. While he hasn't had any calls from his clients about the potential visa issue, he says some agents have posted their own concerns on the private Facebook group page for Cruises Inc.'s parent company, World Travel Holdings.  

"I tell them the same thing that I would tell clients," says Gawne. "'This started being discussed in the EU three years ago. Recently their Civil Rights Committee passed that recommendation, but it hasn't been acted on by the EU Parliament.'"

From one major trade group's perspective, Michelle Fee, CEO and co-founder, Cruise Planners, Coral Springs, FL, says "Europe sales so far have not been affected."

EU Reciprocity Requirement

So what's the big deal? During the European Parliament's last plenary session on March 2, it did vote in favor of a motion for a resolution prepared by its Civil Liberties Committee that called on the European Commission to take temporary measures and reintroduce visa requirements for US citizens within two months.

The issue is that the U.S. government does not grant visa-free access to nationals of five EU countries -- Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania.

Under European law and according to the visa reciprocity mechanism, if a third country does not lift its visa requirements within 24 months of being notified of non-reciprocity, the EU Commission must adopt a delegated act suspending the visa waiver for its nationals for 12 months.

In April 2014, the European Commission was notified that five countries were not meeting their obligations towards the EU with regard to reciprocity of visa-free travel: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Japan and the United States

Since that time, Australia, Brunei and Japan have lifted their visa requirements for all EU citizens. Canada will lift their remaining restrictions for Bulgarians and Romanians in December of this year. 

The U.S., though, has not done so. At the same time, US citizens can visit all 28 EU member states including those five countries without obtaining a visa.

Not a New Issue

This isn't a new issue. The U.S. was first notified of its non-reciprocity in 2014. Procedurally, the European Commission should have acted before 2016, but it has yet to take any legal action or make a final decision.

For cruisers interested in booking a European vacation, CLIA continues to stress that last week's vote was non-binding and "the motion for a resolution will now be forwarded to the EU Commission for its consideration and response."

Bottom line? It could take time to debate the issues. EU member nations may have concerns about the economic impact on their tourism numbers.  

CLIA's statement noted: "Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, in charge of Home Affairs, previously told the Parliament in December 2016 that while the Commission has a legal obligation to act in cases of lack of visa reciprocity, it must 'take account of the consequences' of its decisions.

"He [said] that even announcing the reintroduction of visa requirements for US citizens would lead to 'retaliation' and, furthermore, to a drop in visitor numbers and substantial losses of income and employment in the tourism sector. It is therefore unlikely that the Commission will rush to act but we will continue to monitor the situation."

From the Front Lines

Candie Steinman, franchise owner, Dream Vacations, Fort Myers, FL, has received a few calls from consumers asking about the potential changes in requirements.

Her clients going on European river cruises in the next few months are doing Paris and Normandy or Danube itineraries. Thus far, "they have not been affected, but I'm keeping an eye on this," Steinman stresses.  

Dana Salem-McCarthy, another Dream Vacations franchise owner in Novelty, OH, has two couples booked on a Colette tour to Croatia and "they just reached out this weekend asking about the visa issue" and she says they're very concerned.

Margie Jordan, president and CEO, Jordan Executive Travel Service in Jacksonville, FL, says she's had no overly concerned clients. "All of my European clients are traveling in a relatively close period of time," says Jordan. 

That said, "I have had a few ask about what it means for the future and whether they'll need to plan for the cost and time associated with visas," she notes. 

But for now, nothing has changed. Stay tuned here, though, as we'll report on any future updates to the visa policy by the European Commission.