On Wednesday, a coalition of 24 trade organizations released a policy blueprint for safely reopening borders and lifting restrictions on international visitation to the United States.
“It’s great news that our country is traveling again but domestic travel alone can’t restore our travel economy,” said Roger Dow, U.S. Travel Association president and CEO, during a media call. Before the pandemic, he said, international business travel represented 41 percent of the travel spend in the United States, with total related travel expenses reaching $700 billion. “Some economists are saying it could be years for that to recover,” he said. U.S. Travel estimates that for each week that travel restrictions remain in place, the U.S. economy is losing $1.5 billion in spending from Canada, the European Union and the U.K. alone—enough money to support 10,000 American jobs.
“A Framework to Safely Lift Entry Restrictions and Restart International Travel” identifies policy principles for finally welcoming international visitors back to the United States while keeping health and safety as the top priority.
“We know international travel can be restarted, particularly with countries that have similar vaccination rates to the U.S.,” Dow said, noting that potential travelers tend to have a higher vaccination rate than the general public. “The health risk is actually becoming more and more minimal, but the economic cost of doing nothing is staggering.”
Some of the guidelines in the policy framework:
- Reserve entry restrictions for only the highest-risk countries.
- Replace all other blanket travel restrictions with a framework of entry protocols based on a country-by-country and individual traveler risk assessment.
- Ensure the framework is easy to understand, communicate and implement.
As immediate steps toward reopening, the blueprint urges the federal government to:
- Lift entry restrictions and reopen travel between the U.S. and the U.K., given the two countries’ similar vaccination records. According to U.S. Travel, research from the Mayo Clinic shows the risk of a person infected with COVID-19 boarding a flight from the U.K. to the U.S. is 1 out of 10,000. The same research shows that the risk of an infected passenger transmitting the virus to another passenger flying from the U.K. to the U.S. is even lower, at 1 out of 1 million passengers.
- Allow expedited entry into the U.S. for fully vaccinated individuals from non-high-risk countries.
- Ease entry restrictions by July 15, when the U.S. is forecast to achieve widespread immunity and sustained declines in infections and hospitalizations.
Lifting the restrictions is not rocket science, Dow said on the call: “It’s medical science. We’ve learned so much over the past [months].” Every kind of travel involves a certain amount of risk, he added. “But every day we travel, we travel safely. It’s time to lift those restrictions on international travel.”
To promote opening the borders, the coalition has met with the Department of Homeland Security, the Commerce Department and the Department of Transportation, Dow said.
Tori Emerson Barnes, EVP of public affairs and policy at the U.S. Travel Association, noted that 75 bipartisan members of the House of Representatives, led by Bill Huizenga (R-MI), Brian Higgins (D-NY), and Kathy Castor (D-FL), sent a letter calling for the reopening of the U.S. border with Canada to nonessential travelers. “We are also expecting a Senate letter in the short term,” she added.
Along with U.S. Travel, signatories to the blueprint are: Airlines for America; Airports Council International—North America; the Aeronautical Repair Station Association; the Aerospace Industries Association; the American Association of Airport Executives; the American Gaming Association; the American Hotel & Lodging Association; the American Society of Travel Advisors; American Tours International; the Cargo Airline Association; the General Aviation Manufacturers Association; the Global Business Travel Association; the International Air Transport Association; the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions; the International Franchise Association; the International Inbound Travel Association; the National Air Carrier Association; the National Restaurant Association; RTCA; the Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association; the Regional Airline Association; The Travel Technology Association; and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“U.S. airlines have been—and continue to be—strong advocates for a risk-based, data-driven approach to safely resuming international travel as laid out in the blueprint,” Nicholas E. Calio, Airlines for America president and CEO, said in a statement . “We have leaned into science throughout this crisis, and research has consistently determined the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is very low. In fact, the Harvard Aviation Public Health Initiative concluded that being on an airplane is as safe if not safer than routine activities such as eating in a restaurant or going to the grocery store. The science is clear—it is time, if not past time, for the U.S. government to take action and reopen travel between the U.S. and low-risk countries.”
Dow stressed that policies should remain agile to allow for shifts as circumstances warrant. Variants of concern bear watching, he said—but he also pointed out that the Delta variant is already present in the U.S., and that it is effectively managed by available vaccines and resulting in very low rates of hospitalization. Dow also urged everyone who is eligible to get a vaccine to secure one. “They have been effective beyond expectation, and they are what is going to allow our lives to go fully back to normal and put this pandemic in the rearview mirror for good.”