Air travel into the United States from international destinations just became much easier.
The Biden administration has announced that, effective June 12, travelers flying from international destinations will no longer be required to show proof of a negative COVID test to enter the United States.
The decision removes the last major COVID-related mandate affecting travelers and the business meeting and events industry. The U.S. Travel Association estimated that ending the requirement could result in bringing 5.4 million visitors to the US and as much as $9 billion in travel spending through the rest of this year.
“Today marks another huge step forward for the recovery of inbound air travel and the return of international travel to the United States,” said Roger Dow, President CEO of USTA. “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.
“International inbound travel is vitally important to businesses and workers across the country who have struggled to regain losses from this valuable sector. More than half of international travelers in a recent survey pointed to the pre-departure testing requirement as a major deterrent for inbound travel to the U.S.”
Under the current existing policy, all international travelers, including US citizens, entering the US are required to present proof of a negative coronavirus test taken within a day of their departure flight to the US. Foreign nationals, with some exceptions, will still be required to be vaccinated against coronavirus to enter the country. More than 40 nations, including throughout Europe, had already lifted pre-departure testing requirements.
USTA reported that in 2020, domestic business travel spending was down 68 percent from 2019 levels, and while spending grew in 2021, it was still about half of what it was in 2019.
The travel and tourism industry has traditionally supported one in 20 US jobs, either directly or indirectly, creating $1.9 trillion in economic activity in 2019, according to the Commerce Department.
But the COVID-19 pandemic cut deeply into the industry. Even with a partial recovery, spending by international visitors in 2021 was only 34%, or $81 billion, of pre-pandemic levels, the Commerce Department said.
The news marks the culmination of advocacy efforts by USTA, the airline and hospitality industries, and others to seek an end to the mandate.
“This is such welcome news for our industry as so many of us have been encouraging the administration to act on this policy,” said Michael Dominguez, President and CEO of ALHI. “The testing policy was a definitive drag on our international traveler and was not logical at this stage.”
Recently Dominguez and ALHI, along with more than 260 travel industry and business organizations sent a letter to White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha calling for an urgent repeal of the pre-departure testing requirement. Similarly, a bipartisan group of 42 mayors representing American cities and counties delivered letters to the Biden administration also asking for the removal of pre-departure testing requirements.
Industry trade groups and hotel companies have all seen a significant improvement in business meetings, conventions, and trade shows while airlines are reporting bookings by business travelers have recently jumped. The addition of international travels would boost those numbers, industry leaders said.
In Las Vegas, for example, the number of trade shows and events scheduled is higher this year than in 2019, but leaders there predict that attendance is projected to be only 60 to 65 percent of the pre-pandemic level. In New York, the city’s tourism promotion body forecasts that business travel will not exceed 2019 levels until 2025. Both destinations are examples to leading sites for international visitors.
A recent survey conducted by Morning Consult for the U.S. Travel Association revealed the inbound pre-departure testing requirement imposed by the federal government was having a devastating impact on travelers’ likelihood of visiting the United States this summer and was a major barrier to economic recovery.
A survey of vaccinated international travelers in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Japan and India found that pre-departure testing requirements are a deterrent to travel and are making it significantly less likely that people will choose to visit the U.S.
Nearly half of respondents (47%) who are unlikely to travel abroad in the next 12 months cited pre-departure testing requirements as a reason, while more than half of international travelers (54%) said the added uncertainty of potentially having to cancel a trip due to U.S. pre-departure testing requirements would have a big impact on their likelihood to visit the U.S.
USTA said if lifting the requirement would bring an increase of just 20% more visitors this summer than otherwise expected, it would mean an additional half a million visitors each month and $2 billion in valuable U.S. travel exports. Over the course of the summer, that spending could directly support approximately 40,000 U.S. jobs.
This is particularly urgent as international arrivals to the U.S. are still far below pre-pandemic levels and are not projected to recover to 2019 levels until 2024.
“Before the pandemic, travel was the second-largest U.S. industry export and generated a positive trade balance of $53 billion,” Dow said. “While other countries with similar case, vaccination and hospital rates have removed their testing requirements and have begun rebuilding their travel economies, the U.S. is at a competitive disadvantage and risks a prolonged period of recovery.”
“Prior to the pandemic, travel was one of our nation’s largest industry exports,” Dow said. “The lifting of this requirement will enable the industry to lead the way toward a broader U.S. economic and jobs recovery.”