Biden administration’s delay in reopening to Europeans is costing US travel agencies


The Biden administration’s decision to re-allow Europeans to travel to the United States – starting in November – was applauded Monday by leaders of the U.S. travel and tourism industry. But what they didn’t say, at least not publicly, was louder.

“What took them so long?” “

Indeed, if the government had lifted the ban on most European travelers to the United States at the start of the summer, it would likely have generated at least $ 100 billion in additional revenue this year for the travel industry and tourism and, arguably, as much as an additional $ 320 billion.

For weeks now, financially crippled leaders of all sectors of the travel and tourism industry have been muttering to each other the reasons why the administration took so long to reverse, in part or in whole, the ban. to travelers coming from Europe. This ban, instituted by the Trump administration at the start of the first wave of the pandemic in the first quarter of 2020, has caused the number of European visitors to the United States to drop from 14.5 million in 2019, who spent around 640 billion dollars here, down to only about 2.2 million in 2020. And with the ban only going to be lifted until an undetermined date in November, those numbers will not be much better this year.

But it can’t have been that bad this year. By mid-May, the number of new Covid-19 cases, the number of hospitalizations and the number of deaths had all fallen enough for airlines to report surprisingly large increases in the number of flights booked for the summer. Hotels have also reported sharp increases in advance bookings.

Granted, those anticipated sales figures were still down more than 50% from pre-Covid-19 2019, but the trend was clear. A surprisingly large number of those locked up were both eager to travel again and, with the number of people vaccinated rising rapidly, feeling safe enough to start doing so. And the picture was even brighter in Europe, which had started to emerge from the darker shadows of the pandemic months before North America.

Executives in the travel industry – especially those of leading airlines – have aggressively lobbied the White House and Congress to open up foreign travel to that country in time for the all-important holiday season. ‘summer. At first they did so quietly, but when neither end of Pennsylvania Avenue responded, they went public in early June, publicly begging President Biden. In the second week of June, they were hopeful that he and key European leaders – or at least British Prime Minister Boris Johnson – would convince Biden at this month’s Group of Seven meeting in the UK to open the North Atlantic air routes once. again.

But that didn’t happen then, and it didn’t happen in August, when most European countries started allowing Americans to go there, provided they can prove they were vaccinated and could produce recent negative Covid-19 results.

As a result, tens of millions of Europeans who are said to have visited the United States, even as the pandemic continued at a reduced level, did not come here this summer. And while it is likely that the arrival of the Delta variant of the virus in late summer would have put the brakes on some fall travel from Europe, it is likely that a large group of fall vacationers from Europe would have taken the lead anyway. They would have been supported by the fact that they would, by definition, be vaccinated and, therefore, much less likely to contract or spread the virus. They would also have recognized at that time that in the vast majority of cases of vaccinated people who contract Covid-19, their symptoms are usually much milder.

But they never had that chance.

Other than a few weak statements and the formation of several committees to study the status of the virus in various European and other countries, the administration has done nothing. Nor, for that matter, the Congress. (Note: Several countries, including some in Europe, have reimposed a limited ban on Americans traveling there in light of the Delta variant wave in that country).

As recently as last week, two prominent publications widely regarded as strong voices for the political center-left, the Washington post and its sister publication Foreign police magazine, called the Biden administration for unnecessarily extending the ban on most European visitors to that country (and in some cases, visitors from other countries). They argued that the failure of the United States to reciprocate on the relaxation by those countries of their limits on travel from the United States was inexcusable for political, scientific and common sense reasons.

Written on September 13 in Foreign police, Columnist Edward Alden, a senior member of the Council on Foreign Relations, criticized the Biden administration, leaders of both parties in Congress, and Republican governors in Florida, Texas and other southern states for upholding the European ban in place for “irrational” and purely political reasons.

Politics, the left-wing Washington politics news site, Jeff Zients, coordinator of the White House response to the virus, previously quoted as saying the White House feared paying a political price if it was seen as conducive to it. called “vaccine passports” because some die-hard conservatives see them as an attack on constitutional guarantees of personal freedom.

That the administration finally respond, belatedly, to the pleadings of the leaders of the travel industry, to the criticisms of European leaders who have criticized Biden quite publicly on this issue, or to the growing criticism of the political right and left of this country , it is at least respond, finally. Unfortunately, the economic cost of keeping the ban five or six months longer than absolutely necessary has been enormous.

Using the spending rate of European visitors to the United States in 2019 – $ 640 billion – it’s a safe bet that even in a still historically weak travel environment, there would have been several million more travelers to the States. – United if the ban had been lifted in early summer, when epidemiological facts and increased travel demand supported such a decision. Estimating how many would have come but could not, and how much they would have spent if they had come here, is difficult, to put it mildly. But it’s reasonable to think that at least $ 100 billion in additional spending by Europeans on the US economy would have been the result. A more aggressive estimate would be that the five or six month delay cost the US economy half of the $ 640 million Europeans spent here in 2019, or $ 320 billion. But whatever that total is, it’s a lot of money that the beleaguered travel and tourism industry desperately needed.

So why did the Biden administration take so long to make this decision that could have opened the United States to Europeans and their money months earlier? Whatever the answer, the answer will be insufficient.