Travel industry calls on White House to end Covid-19 testing requirement for foreign visitors

A man checks in at a Covid-19 testing site in the international arrivals area of ​​Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, December 22, 2021.

Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images

Travel and hospitality CEOs are stepping up pressure on the Biden administration to scrap the requirement that anyone traveling to the US present a negative Covid-19 test before departure, saying the rule discourages visitors and hurts the country’s tourism industry.

The push comes after the UK, Italy, Greece and others lifted similar requirements as pandemic restrictions ease around the world.

In the United States, health officials still require travelers to the country to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test, regardless of their vaccination status or citizenship. People can also present proof that they have recovered from Covid. Other countries, including South Korea and Japan, also require travelers to present a negative Covid test.

“Requiring pre-departure testing creates uncertainty for travelers, yet another hurdle that can lead them to choose a destination with less friction,” Marriott CEO Tony Capuano said in a statement to CNBC. “The United States is going to miss out if we don’t remove these unnecessary barriers.”

Nearly 40 US mayors, including those of San Francisco and Miami, also sent a letter this week to Dr Ashish Jha, the White House’s Covid-19 coordinator, urging him to lift the requirement. The letter says U.S. cities are still struggling to track down international visitors.

Travel industry executives also met with Jha last week, but say they weren’t given a timetable for when the requirement might end.

“They are not in a position to say when pre-departure testing will be lifted,” Tori Barnes, president of the US Travel Association, told CNBC after the meeting.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

“Pre-departure testing is preventing international travelers from booking travel to the United States,” said Jon Bortz, CEO of Pebblebrook Hotel Trust, which has 54 hotels across the country.

Glenn Fogel, CEO of the world’s largest online tour operator, Booking Holdings, said the testing requirement is pushing people to visit other countries. In other cases, he noted that people are simply finding ways around the requirement.

“We are also seeing cases of people simply avoiding the restriction by flying into Canada or Mexico and driving across the board,” Fogel said in a statement.

In a note to investors on Wednesday, Morgan Stanley analyst Jamie Rollo wrote that the testing requirement is becoming of particular concern for cruise lines, who fear being stuck on a ship that tests positive.

Keith Barr, CEO of InterContinental Hotels Group, expressed his frustration with the country’s testing requirement during CNBC’s “Closing Bell” on Tuesday.

“It’s out of step with the rest of the world,” he said.

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