The U.S. travel industry welcomed all vaccinated international visitors back to the United States after 19 months of pandemic-related border restrictions beginning November 8th. This is a long-anticipated milestone that marks the rebuilding of international inbound travel at air, land, and seaports of entry, and across destinations nationwide.
This action was a key first step in the recovery of the highly lucrative international travel market. In 2019, international inbound travel produced $239 billion in export income for the U.S. economy and directly supported 1.2 million American jobs.
U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow, said, “After nearly two years of restrictions, Monday begins in earnest the return of international travel, when long-separated families and friends can safely reunite, travelers can explore this amazing country, and the U.S. is able to reconnect with the global community. It is a monumental day for travelers, for the communities and businesses that rely on international visitation, and for the U.S. economy overall.”
Down noted that the organization and its members “worked tirelessly” to lobby the administration for a safe reopening plan for international travel. He added, “we are eager to welcome these qualified travelers back as we enter the next phase of our industry’s recovery.”
The countries affected by restricted travel, which included the United Kingdom, Ireland, the 26 Schengen Area countries, South Africa, Iran, Brazil, India and China, comprised just 17% of all countries worldwide but accounted for a disproportionate 53% of all overseas visitors to the United States in 2019.The land borders with Canada and Mexico, the top two inbound markets to the U.S., were also closed.
U.S. Travel estimates that declines in international visitation since the start of the pandemic, from March 2020 to October 2021, resulted in nearly $300 billion in lost export income and a loss of more than one million American jobs. The association also estimates that the international inbound travel segment will not recover to 2019 levels until at least 2024.
U.S. Travel Association Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy Tori Emerson Barnes said, “While reopening our borders is a critical step in the right direction, much work remains to ensure an even recovery for international travel. Specifically, officials must fully reopen and resume visitor visa processing at U.S embassies and consulates to reduce the backlog for future visitors and accelerate the recovery of inbound travel.”
Analysis by the U.S. Travel Association reveals that of the top 20 countries for inbound travel to the U.S., only five countries have all U.S. embassies or consulates fully open for visa processing.
Barnes added, “On average, countries that are not a part of the Visa Waiver Program currently face unacceptably long wait times in excess of 14 months for a visitor visa appointment. Further, officials must also ensure frontline CBP and TSA officers have the necessary resources to safely process an increasing number of arrivals.”
The travel group points out there are other key policies, such as providing emergency relief funding to Brand USA, the United States’ destination marketing organization, will be essential to restoring international inbound travel. A bill to provide this funding passed the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation earlier this year.
The reopening of international inbound travel is a step in the right direction. Groups like the U.S. Travel Association must continue its efforts to make the U.S. the top destination in the world for global travelers.
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