End of testing rule opens in the US; summer travel floodgates

Monday, June 13, 2022


Just as summer heats up, the US is lifting its long-standing requirement for all travellers entering the country to present a negative COVID-19 test.

The news brings both a collective sigh of relief and a likely flood of new international travelers to an already chaotic summer season.

For many American travellers, the development means no longer having to worry about the hassle of testing before returning to the States, or the cost and burden of remaining abroad to quarantine and wait for a negative test result if a pre-travel test comes up positive.

US-bound international travellers, meanwhile, can plan trips without the fear of having to cancel because of a positive test. Most non-US citizens must still be vaccinated to travel to the country.

And the battered travel industry is cheering the removal of the barrier to both groups of prospective customers.

The rule, which was put in place in January 2021, will end for US-bound travelers beginning at 12:01 a.m. ET on Sunday, June 12.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it will reassess the rule if the COVID-19 situation changes.

Speaking with a news media on Sunday, some travellers who flew into Miami International Airport from Europe agreed with the change.

The development comes after intense pressure from travel trade and tourism groups as the industry continues to bounce back after more than two years of a pandemic-induced downturn.

For months, such organizations had been calling for the testing requirement to be scrapped, as it has been in Canada and the United Kingdom since March, as well as most countries in Europe.

After Friday’s news of the rule’s end, the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) and the US Travel Association (USTA) were among the groups issuing statements applauding the move.

AHLA President and CEO Chip Rogers described it as a significant win for hotels and the broader travel industry in a statement released Friday, calling the requirement outdated and creating a “chilling effect” on inbound international travel.

USTA President and CEO Roger Dow, meanwhile, emphasized ending the testing requirement could bring an additional 5.4 million visitors to the US and an additional $9 billion in travel spending through the end of 2022.

2022 is three seasons in one

Even as many in the travel industry support the development, some experts are warning about the increased demand, decreased availability and higher prices sure to come as a result, exacerbating what has already been a chaotic travel landscape both Stateside and abroad.

Europe is going to be inundated with American travellers, Mina Agnos, resident of an agency specializing in travel to Greece with offices in Athens and Delray Beach, Florida, told a news channel via email.

In speaking with travel consultants across the US, the consensus is 2022 is ‘three seasons in one.’ Hotel availability is very tight and local services [such as] guides, drivers, local air, ferry and rail service and restaurants will all be at capacity this season, Agnos said.

It’s an assessment the tourism industry, especially the hotel sector, is thrilled to see.

Chitra Stern, CEO of Martinhal Resorts, a family-centric luxury hotel group with properties across Portugal, said the US testing restrictions have “held many travellers back” from planning trips abroad, especially families, which are the brand’s core demographic.

Because a negative test is no longer required to return to the US, Stern expects to see a surge in US-based guests — the top market for Martinhal’s property in downtown Lisbon — booking stays in Portugal and throughout Europe.

According to Agnos, travellers with their hearts set on a Greek vacation this summer should start planning their trips immediately, and expect to contend with crowds.

Hotel availability is a serious concern, even in areas like Athens and Mykonos, where inventory was always adequate, Agnos explained. It is the first time we have ever had to stop taking on business due to the lack of availability.

A boost in trans-Atlantic demand

It remains to be seen exactly how much the lifted restriction will trigger a bump in airfare costs.

But it is safe to say with the inevitable increase in demand, passengers should consider booking flights as soon as possible to get the best deal.

According to Scott Keyes, founder of an airfare tracking and booking site, the increased demand could result in airlines expanding routes and service to popular destinations like Europe.

It is definitely about supply and demand, Kyle Potter, editor of flight deal and travel website, told a news channel.

Many domestic fares are higher than ever, and that’s because that’s where demand is highest, Potter said. As more people look to Europe and beyond, they could easily see airlines raise fares, especially during the peak summer season.

Potter recommends traveling in mid to late August and early September. They are still finding some great deals to Europe like $500 (or less) nonstop fares to London or Rome in that time period after the trans-Atlantic rush drops off a bit.

Travellers to high-volume destinations should also pack some extra patience in light of the staff shortages the travel industry continues to grapple with across the hotel, restaurant and airline sectors.

Kathy Hirst, travel manager for a Salt Lake City-based custom travel operator, said while she is “thrilled” about the lifted testing requirement, she is also anticipating some frustration from clients who waited to book international travel until testing was no longer necessary, and now may face limited availability.

Like Agnos, Hirst has noticed a significant uptick in inquiries and bookings to European hot spots including France, Greece, Italy and the United Kingdom.

She said destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico also are “extremely popular,” and demand across the board has been so high, some of her colleagues are turning down requests to book custom trips.

These itineraries are a lot of fun to plan but very time-consuming and so many advisers are turning down new clients because they are so inundated with requests, Hirst said.

People have waited two years to travel, and the pent-up demand is a good problem to have on their end but also making days very long and stressful, she said.

Hopefully things will level off in the coming months, but for now travel is hotter than she has seen it in her 20-plus years in the industry.

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