The U.S. travel industry breathed a sigh of relief on Monday after the Biden administration said it would ease longstanding restrictions on international travelers, allowing those who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus to visit the country beginning in November.
The 18-month travel ban on travelers from Europe, China, Iran, South Africa, Brazil and India has been crippling for the industry, which suffered a $500 billion loss in travel expenditures in 2020, including a 79 percent decease in spending from international travel, according to the U.S. Travel Association, a trade group that promotes travel to and within the country. There were 19.4 million international visitors to the United States in 2020, less than one-quarter of the number who visited in 2019.
Unvaccinated travelers from many countries, including Mexico, Canada and Japan, who have been permitted to travel to the United States before Monday’s announcement will not be allowed in once the new proclamation takes effect.
Roger Dow, the president of the U.S. Travel Association, praised the lifting of the restrictions on vaccinated travelers.
“The U.S. Travel Association applauds the Biden administration’s announcement of a road map to reopen air travel to vaccinated individuals from around the world, which will help revive the American economy and protect public health,” he said in a statement Monday.
“This is a major turning point in the management of the virus and will accelerate the recovery of the millions of travel-related jobs that have been lost due to international travel restrictions.”
Nicholas E. Calio, president of Airlines for America, an industry trade group, also applauded the new policy, which will require airlines to play a role in checking international travelers’ vaccination status. “U.S. airlines have been strong advocates for a stringent, consistent policy and are eager to safely reunite the countless families, friends and colleagues who have not seen each other in nearly two years, if not longer,” Mr. Calio said in a statement.
Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
Willie Walsh, the director general of the International Air Transport Association, a trade group of the world’s airlines, called the new approach to international travel “a step forward” for the U.S. economy, for families separated by previous rules and for managing the spread of coronavirus throughout the world. But there is still much to resolve, he said, given that along with opening up travel for many people to the United States, the new rules also prohibit travel for unvaccinated individuals from across the world.
“The next challenge is finding a system to manage the risks for travelers who do not have access to vaccinations,” he said in a statement. “Data points to testing as a solution. But it is also critical that governments accelerate the global rollout of vaccines and agree on a global framework for travel where testing resources are focused on unvaccinated travelers. We must get back to a situation where the freedom to travel is available to all.”
No city in the United States felt the impact of the travel ban like New York, which had the highest share of overseas travel and drew more than 13.5 million foreign visitors in 2019. International arrivals fell by as much as 93 percent in 2020, according to data from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the area’s airports, among other things.
International visitors generate 50 percent of the city’s tourism spending and 50 percent of hotel room occupancy, NYC & Company, the city’s tourism marketing agency, said. Fred Dixon, the agency’s president and chief executive, welcomed the administration’s decision calling it “a shot in the arm for the industry.”