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"Is Venice open for travel?"

With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, we think it's unwise to schedule a visit for spring or summer of 2021. However, the last quarter of the year could be more promising, and it's never too early to plan for 2022.

body bag in Venice, Italy

ABOVE: No, the body parked outside this funeral parlor isn't a coronavirus victim--but it could be, given the high death rate for older people and the fact that pensioners make up nearly 20 percent of Venice's population.

Venice isn't at the epicenter of Italy's coronavirus scare, but there have been plenty of COVID-19 cases in the city, and many deaths have occurred. A "third wave" of coronavirus infections has been spreading across Europe, so travel to Venice probably is likely to be unwise for a good while yet. Still, that doesn't mean you can't start thinking about a future trip.

Things to keep in mind:

  • The bad news: Although Italy is nominally open to tourists from the EU and the Schengen Area, visitors from many other countries--including the United States--may have to wait for a while.  (The European Union's Re-open EU Web site has up-to-date, country-by-country information in 24 languages. Also see the Italian government's page about current travel restrictions for international visitors.)

    A shortage of flights and a "third wave" of COVID-19 infections in Europe will complicate matters in the next few months. Also, the EU's vaccination efforts have been slow and inadequate, which means that "herd immunity" may be a long way off.

  • The good news: Because of the pandemic and its economic fallout, tourist arrivals in Venice are lower than they have been in decades. We think fall of 2021 could be a reasonable time to enjoy the city without having to bump shoulders with mass-market tourists (depending on whether you've been fully vaccinated and the crisis has receded in Italy). What's more, Venetians--who have been hit hard financially--will be grateful for your business.

Our advice for planning a visit to Venice:

  • Watch the news media and Re-open EU for up-to-date information on infection rates, lockdowns, etc. The pandemic isn't likely to recede fully until vaccinations are widespread, so (as much as it hurts us to say this) we can't recommend planning a vacation trip to Venice until fall at the earliest.

  • If you're in a high-risk group (e.g., over 60, especially with underlying health problems), use common sense in deciding whether, when, and where to travel. The coronavirus won't disappear overnight, and Italy's healthcare system is likely to remain under stress for some time.

  • When you book hotels, B&Bs, or apartments, make sure that your reservation can be canceled without penalty. (This year is a good time to avoid low prepaid, non-cancellable rates.) For maximum savings, keep an eye on rate changes and be prepared to cancel and rebook if you can get a better deal closer to your visit.

    Hotel rooms are usually easier to cancel without penalty than apartments are.

  • Be aware of cancellation policies or change fees when you book your airline, train, or cruise tickets. Airline fares and other transportation tickets vary in their cancellation and change policies.

    If you can't afford a fully-refundable ticket, budget some money for ticket changes just in case. (Good news: Many airlines offer waivers on change fees during periods of severe weather, epidemics, etc.)

  • Don't expect travel insurance to protect you if you need to cancel your trip because of coronavirus fears. Most insurers are treating the current outbreak as a "known event" and are turning down coronavirus-related claims unless travelers have bought high-priced "cancel for any reason" plans.

  • Avoid prepaid sightseeing tours unless they're fully cancellable. Instead, book excursions when you come or immediately before. (Gondola rides don't need to be booked ahead--just hire a gondolier on the spot.)

Bottom line:

  • As of this writing, we think the fourth quarter of 2021 could be a reasonable time to visit Venice if you want to enjoy the city with less crowding than usual. Our prediction assumes that COVID-19 vaccinations are well underway, tourism has largely resumed, and you aren't in a high-risk group. (Caveat: That assumption may be optimistic. Also, the situation could change at any time, so build as much flexibility as possible into your travel plans.)

Note for U.S. visitors:

The president of the European Commission recently told The New York Times that she expects fully-vaccinated Americans to be allowed into the EU this summer. However, there are several caveats that you need to consider before booking a summer trip to Europe:

1. Proof of vaccination is a work in progress. At this point, U.S. and EU officials are negotiating, but details of how an international "vaccine passport" or a digital immunization certificate might work are unclear.

2. Even the best vaccines are only about 95 percent effective. This means that 1 in 20 visitors are likely to be be unprotected as they venture into countries where COVID-19 is still raging.

3. Lockdowns, curfews, mask requirements, limits on visitor numbers in restaurants and tourist attractions, business closures, etc. could hamper your enjoyment of a European trip.