Officials throughout the tourism, exhibitions, conferences and events sectors overwhelmingly applauded the Biden Administration’s announcement this week that U.S. travel restrictions for vaccinated international visitors will be eased in November. The move reopens the country to millions of people and paves the way for a massive boost to the industry’s recovery.
Starting in early November, fully vaccinated travelers from anywhere in the world will be able to fly directly into the U.S. if they show proof of full vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test prior to boarding their U.S.-bound flight. No quarantine will be required. Unvaccinated people who are not American citizens will not be permitted to enter the country. An expanded contact tracing system will also be put in place.
The 18-month pandemic travel ban has been a major blow to the industry, as it lost travelers, exhibitors, attendees and other professionals from 33 countries affected by the restrictions, including those in the European Union as well as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, China, India, Iran and South Africa.
The U.S. Travel Association’s Roger Dow applauded the move to relax the restrictions for vaccinated individuals, noting that it will significantly help revive America’s economy and protect public health.
"This is a major turning point in the management of the virus and will accelerate the recovery of the millions of travel-related jobs that have been lost due to international travel restrictions,” Dow said.
The news comes after leaders from the business and travel sectors, including Dow, gathered in Washington, D.C. Sept. 16 to make a compelling case for the full and safe return of in-person professional meetings and events.
Hervé Sedky, board chair of the Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance (ECA) and president and CEO of Emerald, said members of the ECA were thrilled with the announcement, calling it a win-win for all stakeholders as the industry returns to in-person gatherings.
“We appreciate the [Biden] Administration’s support of the economy, as small businesses across the U.S. rely on our industry to recover,” Sedky said. “International exhibitors and attendees are critical to the success of the thousands of conferences and trade shows held in the U.S. each year.”
According to Sedky, more than 80 percent of customers for the exhibitions and conferences industry are small businesses, and 46 percent of small businesses in the U.S. attend one exhibition at least once per year, with more than 90 percent saying it’s an extraordinarily effective tool to get leads, market their products and share their brand.
“Allowing those who are vaccinated back into the U.S. is an important step in the recovery of our industry and will help us get all of our stakeholders safely back to business and back to work nationwide.”
Tourism officials from New York City, the destination hit hardest by the ban, since it is the No. 1 point of entry for the U.S. and has the nation’s highest share of overseas travel, said the new policies will enable the city to recover its important international markets.
"International travel is critical to New York City's continued recovery, and this is a shot in the arm for our industry,” said Fred Dixon, president and CEO of NYC & Co., explaining that while international travel comprises 20 percent of visitor volume in a typical year, it generates 50 percent of tourism spending and 50 percent of hotel room nights.
He added, “International visitors stay longer and spend more.” New York City is forecasting roughly 36.1 million visitors for 2021, recapturing more than half of the volume of 2019, when it welcomed a record-breaking 66.6 million travelers.
“We definitely see this as a positive across the board—from leisure to business to conferences and events,” said Christopher Heywood, executive vice president, global communications for NYC & Co. “All of Western Europe are core markets for us, with the U.K. typically being the No. 1 market. It is crucial that we recover these markets in order to fuel New York City’s recovery.”
Meanwhile, the lifting of travel restrictions for international visitors may come just in time for one of the industry’s biggest events, IMEX America, which is set to take place at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas Nov. 9-11 and is being hailed as a “homecoming” for the industry.
"We are absolutely delighted to see that the U.S will be easing travel restrictions from across the world into America from November," said Carina Bauer, CEO of IMEX Group. "Hundreds of global buyers, exhibitors and industry professionals are keen to attend IMEX America and reconnect with their industry family, and we know that there is huge pent-up demand."