By Roger Dow
August 9, 2021 at 5:00 am ET
Today, another milestone has been reached on the pathway to pandemic recovery. Effective immediately, America’s friend and ally, Canada, fully reopens to U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
This is welcome news for the millions of people with deep connections across our northern border and follows similar decisions from officials overseas. Earlier this month, the United Kingdom also began admitting vaccinated U.S. travelers without a mandate to quarantine upon arrival. E.U. restrictions were lifted for vaccinated Americans back in June.
These countries are leveraging our collective hard-earned vaccination success to safely promote a resurgence in the critical business and leisure travel trade and boost their nations’ economic prospects.
One question remains: When will the United States advance its own economic and jobs recovery by welcoming back visitors from countries with low viral risk and high vaccination rates?
Continuing to bar vaccinated travelers from low-risk nations is a missed opportunity of immense proportion. International travel and tourism are among our most essential national exports, worth more than $230 billion in 2019. Entry restrictions were urgently necessary before effective COVID-19 vaccines were widely available, but these shutdowns carried a steep price — the loss of more than 1 million American jobs and $150 billion in export income last year alone. The reality is that travel restrictions are no longer protecting us from the virus — vaccines are.
Of course, the safety of the American people is paramount. Decisions about re-admitting international visitors must be made carefully, assessing on-the-ground realities in each country.
It makes sense to begin by reopening our land border with Canada.
Fully reopening travel with our northern neighbor, as Canada has done for vaccinated Americans, offers a great economic benefit with a high degree of safety. Canada has demonstrated a deep commitment to inoculating its residents and now boasts a vaccination rate exceeding our own. More than half of eligible Canadians were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of last month.
Importantly, visitation from Canada can buoy travel- and tourism-reliant industries as we await progress against COVID-19 in other parts of the world. Canada represents America’s largest international travel market and accounted for 26 percent of inbound traffic in 2019, worth $22 billion.
The United States normally welcomes more than 20 million Canadian visitors for overnight stays each year, of which more than half travel by land. The latest available data (May 2021) still shows that arrivals are running 94 percent below those typical levels. Every month the status quo continues, the United States loses $1.5 billion in potential travel exports, leaving countless American businesses vulnerable.
With the recent easing of quarantine requirements for returning vaccinated Canadians, air travel is now a viable option. But it is the ability to easily travel by land that makes Canada our prime international inbound market. And land travel is critical for the numerous American communities and businesses near our northern border that depend on Canadian customers and that have been suffering from the lack of these visitors for more than 16 months.
Canadian visitation, even at half of 2019 levels for the rest of 2021, would reap nearly $5 billion if U.S. policy permits. Nine in 10 Canadians who canceled plans to visit the United States in 2020 say they would like to come here within a year, and today’s currency exchange rate makes an American vacation particularly appealing right now.
While there are encouraging reports indicating that the White House is developing a plan to admit vaccinated travelers into the United States, it is critical that a target reopening date be released as soon as possible. Businesses and service providers need to prepare for visitors. And Canadian travelers need time to plan their visits here.
The administration’s interagency working group must submit its recommendations without delay so the White House can act on a decision. It’s understandable that adjustments may be necessary as this fluid health situation dictates, but what is unacceptable is paralysis in the face of long-term uncertainty, especially as we learn to manage our lives and livelihoods in the presence of an ongoing health challenge.
Adaptation is the order of the day. That we are talking about welcoming back visitors and safely rebuilding our nation’s travel sector is a testament to the progress that has been made on multiple fronts. But the job of steering through COVID-19 is far from done – and, just as the government of Canada is doing today – we must also advance plans for fully reopening travel.
Emergence from this pandemic will be a complex process and scientists tell us the health challenge is becoming endemic. The best response from President Joe Biden would be to take up the mantle of global leadership and set rational policies regarding international travel for a world that is cautiously but gratefully reopening.
Roger Dow is president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association in Washington, D.C.
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