Beginning in early November, the ban, which primarily impacted nonessential travel from 33 countries, will be replaced with a rule that requires foreign nationals flying to the United States to be fully vaccinated and test negative for the coronavirus within three days of their trip. Unvaccinated American travelers will have to test within a day before their trip, as well as after arriving in the U.S.
The news was cheered by travel insiders in the United States, who have long been pushing for international visitors to return. In 2019, the country saw 79.3 million international arrivals, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office. That number dropped to 19.4 million last year.
After more than 550 days largely without international visitors, domestic travelers will again have some company from the rest of the world. What could that mean for Americans’ future vacation plans, travel prices, crowding and available inventory? We spoke with six travel experts to find out.
International flight prices could drop
While flights abroad are already relatively cheap, Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights and author of “Take More Vacations” said the end of the travel ban could mean more inexpensive fares for trans-Atlantic trips. If airlines see a spike in interest from travel-hungry Europeans, they may add more capacity to meet the demand. This happened earlier this year when European countries began opening their borders to Americans.
“That added capacity tended to add more downward pressure on fares than the upward pressure that was created by the increased demand,” Keyes said. “The end result was cheaper prices than what you had seen previously.”
Airlines could add international routes
Before the pandemic, business travel dictated where new routes were planned since it brought in the most profit. But with the absence of that lucrative market, airlines have been responding to the needs of leisure customers. Keyes said airlines have accommodated increased demand for flights to/from vacation destinations and “second cities” (i.e., smaller metropolitan areas such as Charlotte or Seattle).
With the end of the international travel ban, routes abroad should follow suit. “Instead of Frankfurt or London, more South of France or Barcelona, places that are really kind of dreamy,” Keyes said as hypothetical examples.
Expect competition in Europeans’ favorite U.S. destinations
If you’re considering a trip to some place Europeans favor, book it sooner rather than later.
Alisa Cohen, founder of the Virtuoso travel agency Luxe Traveler Club, said you will have to consider not only Europeans coming stateside for destinations such as New York City and Aspen in Colorado, but local travelers, too.
“There are people that still don’t want to travel abroad,” Cohen said. “So the domestic demand is high already, and then the Europeans that all want to travel ... anywhere that has international appeal, the demand is going to be full.”
The arrival of visitors from other parts of the world will be crucial for those destinations, which have been hit hard because of their dependence on international tourism, said Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics.
“The parts of the country that have already recovered — which are largely smaller destinations, beach resorts and mountain destinations — they’re not the ones where we’re going to see the most significant influx over the next six months,” Sacks said. “It’s going to be the cities.”
Some travel prices could rise
Adit Damodaran, an economist at the travel app Hopper, said in an email that he doesn’t expect to see domestic airfare change significantly since travelers probably will not be crisscrossing the United States. But, he said, some other forms of travel could see price hikes.
“I do think the higher demand could exacerbate the rental car shortage and lead to higher rental car daily rates as well as hotel prices,” Damodaran said. “I think we’re definitely going to see more crowds at attractions.”
He said that could further motivate domestic travelers to seek out “off-the-beaten path” destinations.
Numbers won’t increase right away — or necessarily that much
Amir Eylon, CEO of Longwoods International, a tourism-focused market research consultancy, said he expects it to take months for the pipeline from booking to traveling to evolve. The rules go into effect in early November.
“All the planes aren’t going to be full tomorrow,” he said.
Sacks pointed out that in 2019, international visits represented only about 6 percent of overnight trips in the United States, with domestic travel making up the rest.
“I think that the main thing to realize is that on a volume-of-people basis, international travelers represent a relatively small share of travel compared to domestic across the board,” Sacks said. “At least on a macro level, there’s not going to be a significant influx that really changes the experience of the average U.S. traveler in America.”
While Sacks said he doesn’t see the change as massive, he believes it is “critically important.”
“In a sense, this is exactly what the doctor ordered for the U.S. travel recovery,” he said.
Business travel should see a boost
The new policy “paves the way to a strong recovery of business travel,” Ariel Cohen, CEO of travel management company TripActions, said in an email.
His company has already seen business trips increase in the past few weeks, a trend that is expected to accelerate once border restrictions are removed.
“With the right health and safety measures in place, plus strong partnerships among policymakers, suppliers and corporate travel partners, the new rules should open the floodgates for worldwide economic recovery and bring much-needed business to airlines, hotels and destinations affected by the pandemic," Cohen said.
Hospitality service could suffer
Hotels and restaurants have reported difficulty hiring all the workers they need, and many have adjusted operations accordingly. For hotel guests, that has meant less frequent housekeeping and scaled-back meal service.
“The industry has a serious workforce issue right now and has been trying very aggressively to hire back a lot of the employees that they lost [during] the pandemic,” Eylon said — an issue that is not limited to hospitality.
He said the added pressure from increased demand could “exacerbate” service issues.
“Right now in the U.S., you have to be a little more flexible with your service expectations,” he said.
Luxury travelers may lead the way
Alex Sharpe, president and chief executive of Signature Travel Network, said he expects it will be wealthy travelers from other countries who make the trip to the U.S. once they are able.
International travelers traditionally outspend domestic vacationers, Sacks said, so their return will have a significant economic impact.
“I think luxury travel will be the biggest benefactor,” Sharpe said. “Even when you just think of the cost of testing and the extra hoops and the potential for testing positive and having to cancel ... it’ll be those who are more affluent who will take that risk.”