The US announcement lifting travel restrictions to the country from early November for fully vaccinated foreigners is clearly a welcome news – not only for hard-pressed airlines, but also for the wider travel and tourism industry, which has been decimated by Covid-19.
Travel bans and quarantines have greatly impacted business travel – a decline in global business travel spending for 2021 is forecast at approximately $550bn, with a decline in the US estimated at $192bn due to the ongoing pandemic.
The US Travel Association trade group previously estimated that the country’s restrictions, if they ran to the end of the year, would cost the American economy $325bn.
In early November, the United States will reopen to air travellers from some 33 countries including China, India, Brazil and most of Europe who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, the White House said, easing tough pandemic-related restrictions that started early last year.
This means foreigners entering the United States should have proof of vaccination and a negative Covid-19 test.
It is widely seen as a large step forward in re-starting and accelerating the travel industry’s economic engine.
The measures announced on Monday by the White House mark the most sweeping change to US travel policies in months, and widen the gap in rules between vaccinated people – who will see restrictions relaxed – and the unvaccinated.
The new rules will replace existing bans on foreigners’ travel to the US from certain regions, including Europe and the two key markets of China and India.
Millions of travellers have been waiting for this move, as it has prevented travellers from entering the US since March 2020.
Restrictions on non-US citizens were first imposed on air travellers from China in January 2020 by then-President Donald Trump and then extended to dozens of other countries, without any clear metrics for how and when to lift them.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden has been under pressure from several instances, such as organisations, business owners, EU commissioners, and even the President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.
The new rules will replace a hodgepodge of restrictions that had barred non-citizens who had been in Europe, much of Asia and certain other countries in the prior 14 days from entering the US. The changes will allow families and others who have been separated by the travel restrictions for 18 months to plan for long-awaited reunifications.
White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients announced the new policies, which still will require all foreign travellers flying to the US to demonstrate proof of vaccination before boarding, as well as proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken within three days of flight. The US will also tighten testing rules for unvaccinated American citizens, who will need to be tested within a day before returning to the United States, as well as after they arrive home.
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, a forum for the global travel and tourism industry, the new measure could pump nearly $200mn back into the US economy every single day!
In other words, the US economy will earn nearly $75bn from foreign tourists in a year, supporting millions of jobs.
“It will finally enable families to reunite, business travellers to resume face-to-face meetings and events, and for travel and tourism to return, providing a major boost to these economies,” noted Julia Simpson, WTTC President & CEO.
“WTTC strongly advocates for fully vaccinated citizens to be able to travel freely and safely, irrespective of where they’re travelling from,” Simpson said.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) welcomed the decision by the Biden administration to enable vaccinated travellers to enter the US with a negative Covid-19 test result prior to travel from early November.
“Today’s announcement is a major step forward. Allowing access to the US for those vaccinated will open travel to the US for many who have been locked out for the past 18 months. This is excellent news for families and loved ones who have suffered through the heartache and loneliness of separation. It’s good for the millions of livelihoods in the US that depend on global tourism. And it will boost the economic recovery by enabling some key business travel markets,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general.
“This announcement marks a key shift in managing the risks of Covid-19 from blanket considerations at the national level to assessment of individual risk. The next challenge is finding a system to manage the risks for travellers who do not have access to vaccinations. Data points to testing as a solution.
“But it is also critical that governments accelerate the global rollout of vaccines and agree a global framework for travel where testing resources are focused on unvaccinated travellers. We must get back to a situation where the freedom to travel is available to all,” said Walsh.
n Pratap John is Business Editor at Gulf Times. Twitter handle: @PratapJohn
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