With new guidance issued Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that relaxes many COVID-era policies—including indoor mask wearing—the U.S. Travel Association, the American Hotel and Lodging Association, Airlines for America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are appealing to White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients in a letter that urges the Biden administration to replace pandemic-era travel advisories, requirements and restrictions with endemic-focused policies that enable travel to resume fully and safely and the American economy to accelerate its recovery.4
These policies are crucial to restoring the U.S. economy and workforce as travel was the largest services-based U.S. export prior to the pandemic. In 2021, as many other sectors of the economy reached a full recovery:
- Business travel spending was approximately 50% below 2019 levels; and
- International travel spending was down a staggering 78% compared to 2019.
Given travel’s slow economic recovery, and in light of the improved public health metrics in the U.S. and medical advancements to prevent the worst outcomes of COVID-19, the Biden administration should now take steps to normalize travel conditions, which include repealing both the pre-departure testing requirement for vaccinated inbound air travelers and the federal mask mandate for public transportation, among other key policies.
Recommendations to restore travel:
- Remove the pre-departure testing requirement for all fully vaccinated inbound international arrivals.
- By March 18, repeal the federal mask mandate for public transportation networks or provide a clear roadmap to remove the mask mandate within 90 days.
- End “Avoid Travel” advisories and the use of travel bans.
- Work with other countries to normalize travel conditions and entry requirements.
- By June 1, develop benchmarks and timelines for a pathway to the new normal that repeals pandemic-focused travel restrictions.
- Send a clear message to the American public and the world that it is safe to travel again, particularly for vaccinated individuals.
Effective, risk-based policies can be reinstated at any time if new variants of concern emerge, or the public health situation deteriorates. It is now time for the administration to lead the country towards a new normal for travel and on a faster path to a full and even economic recovery.