US Lifts Covid Testing Requirements for International Travelers: Everything Hosts Need to Know
Better Late Than Never
In a huge step forward, and more than two years since the country’s first Covid case was detected, the United States has formally waived the requirement to undergo any form of pre-departure COVID testing for international travelers arriving by plane.
The ruling came into place Friday, June 12th, and it will remain in effect for at least 90 days as the “CDC continues to evaluate the latest science and state of the pandemic,” according to a spokesperson from the Center For Disease Control (CDC).
This news was certainly received well by the travel & tourism industries, which will both benefit from the influx of travelers eager to take trips this summer without the possible risks they faced with required testing — like missing flights or having costly hotel stays due to positive test results.
What Were the Requirements Before?
These disruptive measures previously required all travelers, regardless of citizenship, age (above two years old), or vaccination status—to undergo an official Covid test no more than 24 hours before flying to the US.
This major hindrance to international travel has impacted the US travel industry, with spending by international visitors in 2021 only 34% of pre-pandemic numbers, according to the Commerce Department.
Who Do These Changes Concern?
These changes specifically concern vaccinated travelers entering the US by plane. Testing requirements for land ports and ferry terminals have already been scrapped.
While unvaccinated citizens and residents are able to enter (on the basis of a negative test), foreign nationals will still need to prove that they are fully vaccinated.
Lobbying From the Travel Industry
For months, the travel industry has been lobbying the Biden administration to drop testing requirements with immediate effect.
Over 260 businesses and organizations signed and sent a letter to the White House to echo this sentiment. They noted that several countries “with similar infection, vaccination and hospitalization rates” had already done so, and that the US travel industry was being left behind.
The note continued… “Given the slow economic recovery of the business and international travel sectors, and in light of medical advancements and the improved public health metrics in the U.S., we encourage you to immediately remove the inbound testing requirement for vaccinated air travelers.”
How Was the News Received by the Travel Sector?
Unsurprisingly, the news was received with open arms by everyone across the travel ecosystem.
From the ground
According to Roger Dow, President and CEO of the US Travel Association, the news “marks another huge step forward for the recovery of inbound air travel and the return of international travel to the United States.” He believes that it “will welcome back visitors from around the world and accelerate the recovery of the U.S. travel industry.”
From the air
The airlines stand to benefit too and have been quick to welcome the change. Nicholas Calio, President and CEO of Airlines for America, said that “Lifting this policy will help encourage and restore air travel to the United States, benefiting communities across the country that rely heavily on travel and tourism to support their local economies. We are eager to welcome the millions of travelers who are ready to come to the U.S. for vacation, business and reunions with loved ones.”
From the sea
While not directly impacted by the changes, the cruise industry welcomed the news as a step forward for global travel, seeing a win for one as a win for all. Holland America Line President Gus Antorcha saw it as a “step forward in the return to all global travel, including cruising.”
How International Travel to the US Has Been Impacted Over the Last Year
Levels of international travel
While domestic travel has seen a return to normal, pre-pandemic figures, international travel still lags some way behind, serving a huge blow to the aviation industry, which generates far more revenue from international travel than domestic.
International travel lags 14% below 2019 data, with air travel being hit particularly hard and remaining 24% below 2019 levels (according to Airlines for America).
And this has hit the travel and tourism industry hard
According to US government statistics, international travelers in 2019 spent more in the US than any other country, pumping $640 million daily into the US economy.
But the pandemic has significantly impacted international spending, and in 2021, international visitors to the US only spent 34% of pre-pandemic figures. This drastically affected the 9.5 million American jobs that the industry provides and dealt a major blow to a sector that (in 2019) contributed 3% of the country’s GDP.
Pre-departure testing has diverted travelers away from the US
Many countries—including the UK, Canada, Italy, and Germany—have already been offering test-free travel for a while, reopening their tourism economies, and even implementing schemes and campaigns to attract tourists back to their countries.
And it’s no secret that Covid testing is a huge roadblock to international travel in terms of additional costs and the added stress that comes with it.
According to Morning Consult (a decision intelligence company), 47% of travelers from a range of countries—including France, Germany, the UK, South Korea, Japan, and India—claimed that pre-departure Covid testing was a reason they were unlikely to travel in the next year.
When you consider these things together, the lingering presence of Covid testing requirements has placed the US at a competitive disadvantage for holiday-goers, who have chosen to take their vacations, and money elsewhere.
Impact Expected from the Change in Testing Requirements
International tourists are expected to flock to the US in large numbers this summer. Guesty’s proprietary data shows that US summer (June-August) reservation volume is already 69% higher than 2019 figures and is set to increase due to this important announcement.
With many travelers planning long-awaited holidays, they are expected to arrive with their bellies empty and their wallets full. After being stuck at home and accumulating two years of holiday savings, guests are content with an average nightly rate of $444, 47% higher than in 2019.
The cost of flights has also skyrocketed. Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines, has mentioned that demand for flights is “off the charts” and that summer rates could be up to 30% higher than they were pre-pandemic.
Numbers for the future
Lifting the testing requirement is predicted to draw an additional 5.4 million visitors to the US over the remainder of 2022, which is likely to generate $9 billion for the travel economy, according to an analysis by the travel industry trade group.
This is set to provide a much-needed boost to short-term rentals, hotels, restaurants, national parks, and tourist attractions that rely heavily on international visitors.