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The travel industry has been quick to respond to news that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will begin requiring a negative COVID-19 test from all U.S.-bound air passengers starting January 26, praising the strategy as a key safety measure but expressing concern that the mandate could further hinder travel and ultimately delay the industry's recovery.
In a statement issued Tuesday evening, U.S. Travel Association Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy Tori Emerson Barnes said that a testing requirement should be met with the removal of travel restrictions and quarantine mandates.
"We appreciate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's announcement of a COVID-19 testing requirement for inbound international travelers. A testing requirement provides yet another layer of safety for international travel and should be accompanied by other risk-based policies-including lifting international inbound travel restrictions and dropping any post-arrival quarantine requirements," said Barnes.
"With an international testing requirement in place, international visitors and returning residents would be tested at much higher rates than the general public and pose a much lower risk of transmitting the disease. So it would make sense to lift international travel restrictions and quarantine requirements at the same time," she added. "With a risk-based, layered approach to health and safety throughout every aspect of travel, it's possible to both protect public health and allow travel to safely resume."
Zane Kerby, President and CEO of the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA), warned that the new requirement "will not ensure that COVID-19 will not spread" and could lead to "stranded passengers, missed connections and canceled flights."
"ASTA supports an accurate, rapid-response testing regime for airline travelers in lieu of mandatory quarantines and travel bans. However, requiring a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure will not ensure that COVID-19 will not spread," Kerby said in a statement issued Wednesday. "It is very possible to be infected within 72 hours of having received a negative test result. As the CDC has already acknowledged, on its own, the new testing regulation will not halt the virus' spread due to lag time between test and flight, incubation period, and false positives."
"Implementing such a requirement without a rapid-response, reliable test threatens to create a logistical crisis. When travelers are stranded because they are unable to obtain an in-destination test in time for departure (if at all), this will set off a domino effect throughout the supply chain-stranded passengers, missed connections, and canceled flights," he added. "The inability to procure a test and the uncertainty of being stranded will cause many travelers to postpone plans, resulting in further mental, emotional, and economic harm. At the least, the CDC should communicate its list of exempted destinations so that travel advisors and consumers can make informed decisions regarding their travel plans."
"Additionally, now that vaccines are available, we have a solution to ensure that travelers are protected. ASTA remains committed to advocating for more resources for vaccine distribution, increasing the capacity and timeliness of testing in our own backyard, and a federal mandate requiring masks in all public places," said Kerby. "The CDC Director has said that wearing a mask is the single most important step you can take to protect yourself from the virus. This is why we have called on the incoming Biden Administration to require passengers to wear masks on all flights, foreign and domestic. Requiring virus testing when the global infrastructure to perform testing doesn't exist will strain the travel economy further without addressing the problem at hand."
Travel advisors are equally concerned about the CDC's announcement. Jemica Archer of TruBlue Travels said that she's "absolutely floored that this measure is taking place so quickly" and predicts it will be "detrimental" to travel businesses.
"We were just starting to get a rebound for 2021 travel. I've started receiving emails from clients about canceling or their concerns about not being able to get back into the country. I think it will be detrimental to the travel industry. Based on this news, I expect to see more cancellations and probably not to see my business recover in 2021," she added.
Meanwhile, VIP Vacations Inc's Ryan Doncsecz called the CDC's latest effort a "major hurdle and possibly one final devastating blow to travel agencies," forecasting that an "already vastly reduced clientele will be shrunk once again."
"To help save our industry, the CDC has now called out the tourism boards from other countries to help initiate a plan on how to help effectively roll out testing in these destinations that already may face difficulty in administering and processing tests. Hopefully, our resort partners will see the need to offer an in destination test as well, but I in no way expect others to continue to pick up extra bills previously not associated with their hotel offerings," said Doncsecz, who remains cautiously optimistic.
"I'm very worried about the outcome of this but hope a continued stance of solidarity amongst travel professionals expressing their worries for not only their careers but the economic livelihood of so many travel-related jobs, combined with the backing of ASTA and other major corporations can help the CDC see just how negatively this is going to impact so many around the world," he concluded.
Internova Travel Group CEO J.D. O'Hara echoed the sentiment expressed by U.S. Travel, calling on those in power to lift restrictions on incoming travelers.
"We support the new ruling from the Centers for Disease Control to prevent the spread of the virus, especially if the testing regime will replace quarantine requirements and move us one step closer to opening the world for travel," he said in a statement. "Testing will enable safer air and cross-border travel and will be critical to the rebound of our industry. Therefore, we urge the Administration to move forward with lifting entry restrictions on travelers from the United Kingdom, Europe and Brazil. A collaborative approach with clear and transparent communication between government and airlines, hotels, destinations and travel advisors is essential as we continue to work together towards the safe return of travel."
AAA is encouraging the development of widespread testing infrastructure to spark a safe recovery.
"As a trusted brand, AAA is focused on the safety and security of our members and all travelers. Access to testing is a critical component to support the safe return to travel, as is achieving critical mass on vaccinations. AAA encourages the development of widespread testing infrastructure to enable the safe return to travel," AAA's senior vice president of Travel Paula Twidale said in a statement.
"Travel is a very personal decision. For travelers unsure of how to navigate travel today, AAA travel agents are available to assist in making an informed decision to travel safely."
A Maryland native and wanderer who has lived across the U.S. from North Carolina to SoCal, Patrick Clarke graduated from Towson...
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