The United States remains one of the last major countries to impose an inbound testing requirement for travelers entering the country—Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, and more have all axed their inbound testing rules.
While Americans continue to travel, international travel, typically the most profitable for travel advisors, continues to drag, and people inside the travel industry are increasingly wondering when the requirement will be pulled.
That drag is shown both in TSA passenger volume—the last five days, for instance, have all seen checkpoint numbers somewhere between 11% and 18% compared to 2019 levels—and in air tickets sold by travel agencies and OTAs—ARC’s leisure ticket rolling average for the last 52-weeks is 26.4% below 2019 levels.
It is also shown in inbound interest. According to a survey conducted recently by Morning Consult for U.S. Travel Association, fully vaccinated international travelers from France, Germany, the U.K., South Korea, Japan, and India, are opting not to travel to the U.S. because of the requirement.
The survey found that travel decisions by more than half of those travelers (54%) are being affected by the uncertainty tied to the U.S.’s pre-departure testing requirements. It also found that half of the respondents who said they were unlikely to travel abroad over the next 12 months were not doing so because of the pre-departure testing requirements (47%).
Travel Advisors talk impact
The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA), which has called the requirement the “biggest barrier” to the industry’s full recovery, has been one of the strongest voices against the requirement, as have its members, and other advisors who aren’t members.
Keisha Adriano, the team lead manager and luxury travel advisor at Washington D.C.’s Travelwise International, told TMR this week that “the inbound testing requirements continue to be one of the major deterrents for travelers and the uncertainty has affected travel demand.”
“People are already anxious about rising costs and inflation, and now are second-guessing trips, fearing that it may cost them more than first expected. Revenge travel is here, but really targeted to households who can absorb additional expenses,” she said.
One Travelwise client, Adriano said, spent 10 days in Switzerland before testing positive as they were preparing to come home.
“Their initial reaction was shock and fear, but by working with them throughout the process and communicating their concerns, we were able to get them home as soon as possible. The complexity of travel can be nerve-wracking and we have been very supportive for our clients, being agile and adaptive to all situations,” she said.
According to Adriano, travel won’t fully recover until that testing rule is rescinded and travelers can regain the confidence and assurance that they will be able to return to the U.S. without delay.
Jill Labare, vice president of business development with Oasis Travel Network, also told TMR that clients are hesitant to leave the U.S. by plane because of “fear they can’t return as planned or need to incur additional expenses” and that from her perspective, the testing requirements are nonsensical.
“It makes no sense that air travel to return to the U.S. is the only mode of transportation where testing is required. You can drive into the US from Canada and Mexico without a test. You can cruise out of the U.S. and back without a return test. Why test if you are returning by air?” she said.
The requirement “is inhibiting travel and is negatively impacting the travel advisors who are primarily small business owners. It is also creating a significant amount of stress for the travel advisors in addition to extra work when they do have clients willing to travel by air outside of the U.S.,” Labare added.
Ted Blank, a Travel Leaders Network agency owner, told TMR that he had just got back from a river cruise on the Rhine and had to deal with the test himself.
“It was quick and easy and actually was free in Switzerland, which was a surprise,” he said. “But the amount of angst and stress it caused to the other travelers was real. I’m pretty sanguine about it myself, I’ve lost track of how many travel-related COVID tests I’ve had,’ he said.
Blank described how the test “was the main topic of conversation for a few days beforehand, and I think everyone had a lurking sense of foreboding about it.”
“It has definitely had an impact on bookings and future planning. I think many people are oddly optimistic that it will be lifted soon, and are waiting for that before pulling the trigger on trips. It has had a significant negative impact on European travel this spring and summer,” he added.
Barbara Khan, owners of Journeys by the Book – ProTravel Inc., told TMR that she still has clients who do not want to leave the U.S. due to the return testing requirements.
“I just had a family of 3 adults reach out and they thought the testing depended on the country you were going to return from. When I explained it was the U.S. requiring it (maybe the only country left!) they decided they needed to stay within U.S., USVI, and PR. Their son who had just graduated college was starting a new job and could not miss his first day if he was positive,” she said.
How can you help?
U.S.-based travel advisors can help continue to raise awareness not just of the testing requirement but also of how it is affecting their business by writing to their local media.
ASTA has put together a Letter to the Editor Inbound Testing campaign, which makes it easy for travel advisors to send a message to their local media. Members can simply fill out their information and send a pre-written message explaining how the requirement is affecting business to their local media.
Some ASTA members have already gotten coverage, including in Connecticut with Amanda Klimak of Largay Travel in Waterbury.
ASTA has also put together a similar letter-writing campaign for local representatives. That tool is built the same way as the media one, making it easy to write to lawmakers about how the inbound testing is hampering business.