Advocacy and leadership: the path to pre-departure testing abolition

On June 10, the US travel industry finally heard the news it had been expecting for months: The Biden administration will cancel COVID-19 testing requirements for all US air travelers and all vaccinated foreign travelers beginning June 12.

Raising testing requirements was a big win that should help the US regain its share in the global travel market and speed up the recovery of the domestic travel sector. US Travel has struggled hard for months to achieve this outcome, leading advocacy efforts across the travel industry and with the broader airline and business communities.

This campaign exemplified what the travel industry can achieve when it leverages its collective voice and national influence to advocate for change in Washington. Below is a summary of US Travel’s ongoing and coordinated advocacy efforts that have ensured the elimination of internal testing requirements.

Leading in politics and building strong industry alliances

The travel industry becomes even more powerful when we speak with one unified voice. Building strong alliances has been a cornerstone of US Travel’s advocacy efforts. It was critical to maintain a steady drumbeat across sectors of the US economy to demonstrate the devastating consequences of the Biden administration to maintain testing requirements no longer backed by science.

In January 2022, US 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 development of the travel industry in the United States, including lifting travel protocols related to the pandemic.

A coalition of travel and aviation industry groups united in February to urge US health officials and the Biden administration to rescind testing requirements for vaccinated passengers traveling to the United States by air. Later that month, when new guidelines were issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that relaxed many COVID-era policies, US Travel, American Hotel and Residential Association, Airlines for America, and the US Chamber of Commerce appealed in a letter to Then – Jeffrey Zents, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator to replace pandemic-era travel guidelines, requirements and restrictions with policies focused on the outbreak. Among these policies, the recommendation to abolish the requirement for pre-departure testing for all fully immunized international arrivals was among them.

This revitalization was subsequently followed by a letter from more than 260 travel and business industry organizations to the White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr Ashish Jha similarly calling for an urgent repeal of pre-departure testing requirements.

Finally, just days before it was rescinded, a group of 38 mayors representing US cities and counties sent a letter to Dr. Ashish Jha, released publicly by US Travel, asking the White House COVID-19 response coordinator to remove the pre-departure test requirement. . The mayors of Houston, Atlanta, Minneapolis and Philadelphia also sent separate letters to the department with the same request, totaling 42 mayors.

Involvement at the highest levels of the Biden administration

US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo was one of our most important allies in the Biden administration in helping to scrap pre-departure testing. US Travel began communicating with Secretary Raimondo about travel issues before she was confirmed for her position and establishing a strong relationship with her and her team. US Travel worked closely with Secretary Raimondo on November 8 to reopen domestic travel, and then in January began building a case to cancel pre-departure testing.

In addition to our ongoing work with Secretary Raimondo, US Travel has also held several meetings with other key administration officials. At the end of May, senior leaders from US Travel and Airlines for America held a meeting at the White House where they again emphasized the need for the Biden administration to finalize pre-departure testing requirements. The main point of the group’s message to the administration was that the United States is in a dangerously competitive position for export dollars because other countries with which we compete directly for global travelers have removed pre-departure testing requirements and reopened their tourism economies.

The CEO of the US Travel 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 about pre-departure testing requirements, which he offered to share with then-White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zents.

This was preceded by a meeting at the US Department of Commerce between travel industry leaders and US Deputy Commerce Secretary Don Greaves that focused on how to eliminate the pre-departure testing requirement that could facilitate the resumption of business travel.

Develop compelling data

In May, a US Travel Agency-commissioned survey of international travelers vaccinated in France, Germany, the UK, South Korea, Japan and India found that pre-departure testing requirements were a deterrent to travel and were significantly less likely that people would be able to. Choose to visit the United States

  • More than half (54%) of international travelers said that additional uncertainty about the possibility of having to cancel a flight due to pre-departure testing requirements in the US would have a significant impact on the likelihood of visiting the US.
  • The vast majority of adults surveyed (71%) agree that they prioritize travel to destinations without onerous entry requirements, including 29% who strongly agree.

The results provided further evidence of the negative impact of testing requirements on the travel industry’s recovery.

Leading ongoing press coverage

US Travel has been very active in the media about canceling the pre-departure test requirement. The association has monitored developments closely and issued frequent press releases, taking advantage of moments such as the appointment of Dr Ashish Jha as the new COVID-19 response coordinator at the White House. US Travel also ran an ad in the New York Times during Memorial Day Weekend – one of the biggest travel periods of the year – calling for an end to pre-departure testing.

US Travel’s frequent media engagement on the issue over the past several months has ensured union presidents have relayed in major US and international publications after the requirement was announced that the requirement had been lifted. US Travel has been cited in the Washington Post, New York Times, BBC, CNN, Fox Business, ABC News, Politico, Reuters, Associated Press, CNBC, Los Angeles Times, and Las Vegas Review-Journal, among dozens of others.

Building support in Congress and recruiting allies

This spring, Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president for US public affairs and policy, testified twice before congressional committees and highlighted the importance of raising pre-departure testing to spur domestic travel.

The week that condition was lifted, Barnes testified before the US Senate Subcommittee on Tourism, Trade and Export Promotion on “Reviving Conventions and 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 senators.

Engaging with the international travel community

A few days before the cancellation was announced, US Travel President and CEO Roger Dow discussed the issue at a press conference attended by several hundred media outlets at the association’s IPW trade show in Orlando. Dow emphasized clearing up pre-departure testing, as well as the fact that medical advances have made it possible to safely resume travel without onerous testing requirements.

The strength of our membership

Of course, we owe a lot to our strong partnerships through our membership in the US Travel and the broader business community. To everyone who has joined us in this effort: Thank you for your support of the US travel industry. It cannot happen without you.

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