Mobile app displaying QR code linked to traveler's COVID-19 test results. (Photo via iStock/Getty Images Plus/ronstik)
The travel industry rejoiced over the news that the Biden administration will lift the pre-departure COVID-19 restrictions, on the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The U.S. Travel Association and the American Society of Travel Advisors had been pushing for this policy change in order to help bolster an industry that was devastated by the pandemic.
“Today marks another huge step forward for the recovery of inbound air travel and the return of international travel to the United States. The Biden administration is to be commended for this action, which will welcome back visitors from around the world and accelerate the recovery of the U.S. travel industry,” said president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, Roger Dow. “Prior to the pandemic, travel was one of our nation’s largest industry exports. The lifting of this requirement will enable the industry to lead the way toward a broader U.S. economic and jobs recovery.”
ASTA president and CEO Zane Kerby also celebrated the news.
“We are thrilled to see the end of the CDC’s inbound testing rule, which has been standing in the way of our industry’s recovery for too long,” said Kerby in a statement. “Since the start of the year, ASTA has been engaged in a multi-layered advocacy campaign to get to this point, including direct lobbying of Congress and Administration officials, grassroots action and pressure through national and local media. We commend the Biden Administration for taking this long-overdue step and thank ASTA members across the country for their hard work in helping get this across the finish line. While plenty of challenges remain in terms of rebuilding the travel agency business, today is a great day.”
Echoing Kerby’s sentiments, travel advisors welcomed the news.
“This will be a fantastic change for domestic travel businesses so that they can increase consumer confidence to travel to the U.S.,” said Stephen Scott, CEO of Travel Hub 365 & the Odyssey Travel App. “For U.S. travelers this is fantastic because it’s a major uncertainty on where you will be able to get a test done prior to the end of your trip to come back home. It’s a stress that was stopping consumers from even wanting to travel outside the country.”
Ryan Doncsecz, groups manager at VIP Vacations, said this was an important policy change.
“This is the best news I’ve read in a long, long time,” said Doncsecz. “I’m anxiously awaiting the next travel surge that will come for those individuals who were afraid of being stuck abroad. Within the last few weeks we have had false positives from guests who tested to come home, or people scared to attend our weddings because they tested positive two weeks prior to travel. This alleviates those worries and makes me very happy!”
Executives from domestic destinations were thrilled by the news as well.
“The lifting of the testing requirement for inbound international air travelers is very welcome news for New York City’s travel and tourism industry, and will no doubt accelerate our continued recovery and that of the U.S.,” said Fred Dixon President and CEO of NYC & Company. “We thank the Biden Administration for ending this mandate and giving the industry the opportunity to speed recovery and restore jobs in the process. In NYC, international travel represents 50 percent of spending in a typical year. In fact, it takes the spending power of four domestic visitors to equal the spending of one international traveler, so easing the entry process means a stronger and faster recovery.”
A view from the Top of the Rockefeller Center in New York City. (photo via NYC and Company)
Destinations abroad also welcomed the news that travelers would no longer need to take a COVID-19 test prior to returning to the U.S. or departing for travel to the U.S.
“Since the announcement this morning, we are already hearing feedback from travel advisors, as well as American travelers, who are happy about this protocol being lifted in the U.S.,” said Lorine Charles-St. Jules, CEO of Saint Lucia Tourism Authority. “The lifting of Covid testing requirements for international will absolutely have a positive impact on international tourism, as well as U.S. tourism. This is especially true for travelers who may have been deterred from traveling internationally because of worries about securing tests in time in a foreign country. While most countries, like Saint Lucia, have made it seamless to schedule Covid testing before departing for the U.S., there is always uncertainty in travel. Eliminating the testing requirement could spur further growth in international travel for Saint Lucia, the Caribbean, and all international destinations that appeal to the American market.”
The reaction was not limited to destinations and travel advisors. Travel service providers also praised the shift in policy.
“The decision to end the requirement for a negative COVID test to enter the United States is long overdue and a welcome step toward recognizing the decreasing severity of the disease, the urgent need to restore confidence for travelers, and support for an industry badly damaged by the pandemic,” said Dan Richards, CEO of Global Rescue, a provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services and a member of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board at the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) called the news a “win.”
“Today’s announcement is a significant win for hotels and the broader travel industry,” said president and CEO Chip Rogers. “AHLA consistently called on the Administration and Congress to lift this testing requirement, which was out of date and had a chilling effect on inbound international travel to the U.S. Lifting the requirement will make travel easier, facilitating more international visitors and helping hotels continue on the road to recovery, especially as we approach peak travel season this summer.”
The testing requirement was proving to be prohibitive for travelers and out of step with the rest of the world.
International travel remained depressed while domestic travel had returned to pre-pandemic levels and pre-departure testing was shown to be a major barrier.
“Many travelers were uncomfortable flying overseas because a breakthrough infection would mean not just getting stranded up to two weeks in a foreign country at their own expense, but also missing work, arranging pet care, and other logistical headaches back home,” said Scott’s Cheap Flights founder Scott Keyes. “With that requirement now gone—and the U.S. joining Canada, Australia, and virtually all of Europe in scrapping the test mandate—I expect we’ll see a surge in international travel. According to a recent poll, more than half of respondents said they’d be more likely to travel internationally without a negative test requirement.”
The elimination of the pre-departure testing requirement is also popular with the American public.
Most U.S. travelers (60 percent) wanted the COVID-19 testing requirement for inbound international travelers removed. Only 27 percent wanted it to remain and 13 percent didn’t have a preference, according to a recent survey from TripIt from Concur.
If the requirement was removed, the survey found 44 percent would be more likely to travel internationally, while 10 percent would be less likely. Forty-six percent say their plans wouldn’t be impacted.
Earlier this week at the IPW trade show event, the US Travel Association noted that the United States could gain an additional 5.4 million visitors and $9 billion in spending by the end of 2022 if the pre-departure testing requirement were removed this summer. Now that it has, bookings and tourism dollars to the United States are bound to skyrocket.
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