Travel industry urges White House to set a timeline to reopen international travel

WASHINGTON – Leaders of the U.S. travel and aviation industry called on the Biden administration Monday to set a May 1 deadline to commit to a plan for reopening the country to inbound international visitation.

The U.S. Travel Association is among the 26 organizations to sign a letter urging the White House “to partner with us to develop… a risk-based, data-driven roadmap to rescind inbound international travel restrictions.”

Roger Dow

“Travel and tourism is the industry hardest hit by the economic fallout of COVID, and the damage is so severe that a broader economic recovery will stall if we can’t get travel off the ground,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow. “Fortunately, enough progress has been made on the health front that a rebound for domestic leisure travel looks possible this year, but that alone won’t get the job done. A full travel recovery will depend on reopening international markets, and we must also contend with the challenge of reviving business travel.”

The industry letter to the White House notes that 2020 international arrivals to the U.S. fell 62 percent from Mexico versus the previous year, 77 percent from Canada, and a whopping 81 percdnt from overseas markets – for a total loss to the U.S. economy of $146 billion last year.

The significant decline in that travel segment is a big reason why travel’s total economic output in the U.S. declined by more than a trillion dollars in 2020, with 5.6 million travel-supported jobs lost – 65 percent of all U.S. jobs lost last year.

If nothing is done to lift international travel bans and bring back demand, the U.S. Travel Association estimates that a total of a 1.1 million American jobs will not be restored and $262 billion in export spending will be lost by the end of 2021.

However, if travel from the top inbound markets to the U.S is able to safely resume by July 4, 2021, and reach an average of 40 percent of 2019 levels for the remainder this year, it would accelerate economic recovery by adding $30 billion in incremental spending and bringing back 225,000 American jobs.

The letter emphasizes that controlling the pandemic must remain a top priority. The May timeline for an international reopening plan is supported by President Biden’s priority to make every American eligible for a vaccination by May 1.

“To be clear, at this time, we do not support removal or easing of core public health protections, such as the universal mask mandate, inbound international testing requirement, physical distancing or other measures that have made travel safer and reduced transmission of the virus,” the letter states. “However, the data and science demonstrate that the right public health measures are now in place to effectively mitigate risk and allow for the safe removal of entry restrictions.”

The letter points to favorable trends in infections, hospitalizations, and vaccinations as indicating the proper moment to set a goals timeline for reopening.

“Taken together, these factors paint a clear picture,” the letter reads. “The risk of COVID-19 transmission while flying is low. Vaccination rates and immunity are increasing rapidly throughout the U.S. The burden of the virus on our nation’s public health system is decreasing. Airlines, airports and travel businesses have the right protections and strategies in place to mitigate risk.

“We are ready to welcome back travelers and keep them safe. And the time to plan for and chart a defined roadmap to reopen international travel is now.”

Click here to read the full letter.