The Biden administration has announced that the requirement for international arrivals to the US to be vaccinated against Covid will end on Thursday 11 May, which is likely to prompt increased demand for travel from international markets.
As with the UK and Europe, the US has struggled to meet the surge in demand, with delays and cancellations commonplace during the peak months of summer 2022 when US airline-caused flight delays were at record levels. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) expects summer air travel volumes to surpass pre-pandemic levels this year.
Geoff Freeman, president and chief executive of the US Travel Association – the national, non-profit organisation representing the US travel industry commented: “That kind of demand in a system that is woefully underfunded and understaffed is likely to create substantial frustrations among travellers.”
Mr Freeman also stated that “the return of international visitors should be as efficient and secure as possible. The federal government must ensure US airports and other ports of entry are appropriately staffed with Customs and Border Protection officers to meet the growing demand for entry.”
The US government’s vaccine mandate has been in place since America reopened its borders in November 2021 and although the requirement to take a Covid test before departure was dropped in June 2022, all international travellers arriving by air must still prove that they have been vaccinated against Covid. The US is only one of only a handful of countries that requires international arrivals to be vaccinated.
A White House briefing on Monday 1 May stated: “since January 2021, Covid-19 deaths have declined by 95 per cent, and hospitalisations are down nearly 91 per cent. Globally, Covid-19 deaths are at their lowest levels since the start of the pandemic… We are in a different phase of our response to Covid-19 than we were when many of these requirements were put into place.”
Domestic leisure travel has proved to be resilient in the US throughout the pandemic, but recovery for international inbound travel has been sluggish.
International inbound travel generated $239bn (£192bn) in 2019, with Europe the top overseas inbound region, accounting for 39 per cent of all visitors to the US and the UK top source market with 4.8m visitors.
However, research by the US Travel Association has found that recovery among UK visitors has been slower than several European nations since the US border reopened in November 2021.
The association does not forecast a full international inbound recovery until 2025, citing headwinds that include high inflation, underlying recession fears and the strong dollar.
It has also seen the demand for air travel receding for the second consecutive month in April, registering 2 per cent below 2019 levels in March.
However, the removal of vaccine restrictions has been widely welcomed and will lift a barrier for many UK visitors. According to the US Travel Association, the removal of pre-departure testing last summer boosted the 2022 tourism forecast by 5.4m visitors and $9bn (£7.1bn) in spending.