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Travel industry urges Biden administration to lift restrictions, reopen international travel

A letter to the White House argues that “the right public health measures are now in place” for the safe return of foreign visitors

(iStock/Washington Post illustration)

This week, 26 U.S. travel and aviation industry organizations signed a letter urging the Biden administration to commit to a plan to lift inbound international travel restrictions.

Citing improvement in coronavirus statistics and the tourism industry’s economic devastation, the letter called for a joint effort to develop a plan to help reopen by this summer so long as vaccine rollout and epidemiological trends keep improving.

“We strongly urge the COVID-19 response team and relevant Federal agencies to partner with airlines, airports, unions, hotels, theme parks and other key stakeholders to develop a data-driven, risk-based road map for reopening international travel,” the letter says.

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Some of the major points of the road map include: allowing vaccinated travelers exemption from international testing requirements (instead of having vaccinations required for travel); creating clear benchmarks and a transparent framework to lift inbound international travel restrictions; and prioritizing international travel’s return ahead of the upcoming Group of Seven Meeting.

While the letter encourages measures to be taken to allow travel again, it does not encourage the government to lift existing public health efforts such as mask mandates, inbound coronavirus testing requirements and social distancing recommendations.

But it also recommends assessing the need for the inbound international testing mandate on a monthly basis after entry restrictions are lifted.

The letter says “the right public health measures are now in place” for the safe return of international visitors.

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It also focuses on the financial toll of coronavirus mitigation travel restrictions, stating that the drop of international arrivals to the United States in 2020 cost the economy $146 billion. According to estimates from the U.S. Travel Association, the United States lost 5.6 million travel-supported jobs, and that 1.1 million jobs and $262 billion in export spending are at stake if international travel bans remain in place by the end of 2021.

Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy at U.S. Travel Association, says industry representatives hope the letter will bring attention to how many Americans are impacted by current restrictions.

“When international travelers come here and spend money in communities, it helps to support local and state taxes,” Emerson Barnes says. “The broader impact to folks coming and staying at hotels or visiting attractions is important for jobs and the economy.”

Dow says while domestic leisure travel appears to be rebounding, “a full travel recovery will depend on reopening international markets, and we must also contend with the challenge of reviving business travel.”

At this time, however, nonessential travel remains discouraged by coronavirus experts.

When reached for comment, the White House referred to yesterday’s press briefing by the COVID-19 Response Team and public health officials. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky said the agency is working on updated guidance for what you can do if you’re vaccinated, which includes travel recommendations.

“We currently are at a situation — if we look at our European friends — we just don’t want to be at this rapid uptick of cases again, and that is very possible that that could happen,” Walensky said. “I would just encourage people and remind people: Now is not the time to travel.”

Read more on travel during the pandemic:

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