On June 10, the U.S. Travel industry finally heard the news it had been anticipating for months: the Biden administration would repeal the COVID-19 testing requirement for all inbound American air travelers and all vaccinated inbound foreign air travelers beginning June 12.
Lifting the testing requirement was a significant win that will help the U.S. regain its global travel market share and accelerate the recovery of the inbound travel sector. U.S. Travel fought hard for months to achieve this outcome, leading advocacy efforts across the travel industry and with the broader aviation and business communities.
This campaign exemplified what the travel industry can achieve when it leverages its collective voice and national footprint to advocate for change in Washington. The following is a summary of U.S. Travel’s persistent and coordinated advocacy efforts that secured the repeal of the inbound testing requirement.
Leading the way on policy and building strong industry coalitions
The travel industry is more powerful when we speak with one, unified voice. Building strong coalitions was the cornerstone of U.S. Travel’s advocacy efforts. It was critical to keep up a steady advocacy drumbeat across sectors of the U.S. economy to show the Biden administration the devastating ramifications of maintaining a testing requirement that was no longer supported by science.
In January 2022, U.S. Travel brought together more than 600 travel industry groups—representative of all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam—to sign a letter to congressional leadership urging immediate action on near-term federal policies to restore and grow the U.S. travel industry, including the lifting of pandemic-related travel protocols.
A coalition of travel and aviation industry groups united in February to urge U.S. health officials and the Biden administration to remove the testing requirement for vaccinated passengers traveling to the United States by air. Later that month, when new guidance was issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that relaxed many COVID-era policies, U.S. Travel, the American Hotel and Lodging Association, Airlines for America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce appealed in a letter to then-White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients to replace pandemic-era travel advisories, requirements and restrictions with endemic-focused policies. Key among these policies was a recommendation to remove the pre-departure testing requirement for all fully vaccinated inbound international arrivals.
This activation was later followed by a letter from more than 260 travel industry and business organizations to White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha similarly calling for an urgent repeal of the pre-departure testing requirement.
Finally, just days before it was repealed, a bipartisan group of 38 mayors representing American cities and counties sent a letter to Dr. Ashish Jha, released publicly by U.S. Travel, asking the White House Covid Response Coordinator to remove the pre-departure testing requirement. Mayors of Houston, Atlanta, Minneapolis and Philadelphia also sent separate letters to the administration with the same request, totaling 42 mayors.
Engaging at the highest levels of the Biden administration
One of our most important allies in the Biden administration in helping to repeal pre-departure testing was U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. U.S. Travel began engaging with Secretary Raimondo on travel issues before she was even confirmed to her position and established a strong relationship with her and her team. U.S. Travel worked closely with Secretary Raimondo on the November 8 reopening of inbound travel, and then in January began building the case for eliminating pre-departure testing.
In addition to our consistent work with Secretary Raimondo, U.S. Travel also had several meetings with other key officials in the administration. At the end of May, senior leaders from U.S. Travel and Airlines for America had a meeting at the White House where they once again stressed the need for the Biden administration to end the pre-departure testing requirement. A key point of the group’s message to the administration was that the U.S. is at a serious competitive disadvantage for export dollars since other countries with whom we directly compete for global travelers have removed their pre-departure testing requirements and reopened their tourism economies.
U.S. Travel’s Corporate CEO Roundtable also met with National Economic Council Director Brian Deese at the group’s March 9 meeting in Washington. The group shared with Director Deese its concerns regarding the pre-departure testing requirement, which he offered to share with then-White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients.
This was preceded by a meeting at the U.S. Department of Commerce between travel industry leaders and U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves that focused on how repealing the pre-departure testing requirement could facilitate a resumption of business travel.
Developing compelling data
In May, a U.S. Travel-commissioned survey of vaccinated international travelers in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Japan and India found that pre-departure testing requirements were a deterrent to travel and were making it significantly less likely that people would choose to visit the U.S.
- More than half of international travelers (54%) said the added uncertainty of potentially having to cancel a trip due to U.S. pre-departure testing requirements would have a big impact on their likelihood to visit the U.S.
- A large majority of adults surveyed (71%) agree they prioritize traveling to destinations without cumbersome entry requirements, including 29% who strongly agree.
The findings provided further evidence of the testing requirement’s negative impact on the travel industry’s recovery.
Driving persistent press coverage
U.S. Travel remained highly active in the media on repealing the pre-departure testing requirement. The association closely monitored developments and issued frequent press statements, capitalizing on moments such as Dr. Ashish Jha’s appointment as the new White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator. U.S. Travel also ran an ad in the New York Times during Memorial Day Weekend—one of the year’s biggest travel periods—calling for an end to pre-departure testing.
U.S. Travel’s frequent media engagement on this issue over the last several months ensured the association’s principals were quoted in major U.S. and international publications after the news broke that the requirement would be lifted. U.S. Travel was quoted in the Washington Post, New York Times, BBC, CNN, Fox Business, ABC News, Politico, Reuters, the Associated Press, CNBC, the Los Angeles Times and the Las Vegas Review-Journal, among dozens of others.
Building support in Congress and enlisting allies
This spring, U.S. Travel Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy Tori Emerson Barnes testified twice before congressional committees and highlighted the importance of lifting pre-departure testing to spur inbound travel.
The week the requirement was lifted, Barnes testified before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Tourism, Trade, and Export Promotion on “Reviving Conventions & Tourism Through International Travel.” Although the hearing was not specifically about pre-departure testing, the issue was a major topic of discussion and had strong, bipartisan support among the senators.
Engagement with the international travel community
Just days before the announcement of the repeal, U.S. Travel President and CEO Roger Dow discussed the issue in a press conference attended by several hundred media at the association’s IPW trade show in Orlando. Dow emphasized the pre-departure testing survey, as well as the fact that medical advancements have made it possible to safely resume travel without cumbersome testing requirements.
The power of our membership
Of course, we owe much to our strong partnerships throughout our U.S. Travel membership and the broader business community. To everyone who joined us in this effort: thank you for your support of the U.S. travel industry. It could not have happened without you.