End of COVID-19 passenger testing applauded by tourism leaders

Cavin McKinley of Oak Brook, Ill. picks up his CES badge and COVID-19 test kit after landing at ...

Tourism leaders are applauding the Biden administration’s plan to lift its requirement that international air travelers to the United States take a COVID-19 test within a day of boarding their flights.

The action is expected to increase international travel to Las Vegas as multiple airlines bring back their nonstop flights from abroad to Harry Reid International Airport.

The lack of international visitors and lower attendance at conventions hosted by the city — with many of the attendees from overseas — have often been cited as the biggest reasons Las Vegas has not fully recovered from the coronavirus pandemic.

A senior Biden administration official said the mandate expires Sunday at 9:01 p.m. local time, saying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that it’s no longer necessary. The official, speaking Friday on the condition of anonymity to preview the formal announcement, said that the agency would re-evaluate the need for the testing requirement every 90 days and that it could be reinstated if a troubling new variant emerges.

While some tourism leaders were reluctant to give comments until the CDC issued its official announcement, others said they were happy with the plan.

“Today marks another huge step forward for the recovery of inbound air travel and the return of international travel to the United States,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “The Biden administration is to be commended for this action, which will welcome back visitors from around the world and accelerate the recovery of the U.S. travel industry.”

Dow said that prior to the pandemic, travel was one of the nation’s largest industry exports.

“The lifting of this requirement will enable the industry to lead the way toward a broader U.S. economic and jobs recovery,” he said.

“A new analysis found that repealing the pre-departure testing requirement could bring an additional 5.4 million visitors to the U.S. and an additional $9 billion in travel spending through the remainder of 2022. U.S. Travel and our partners advocated tirelessly for months to ensure this requirement would be lifted, pointing to the monumental scientific advancements that have made it possible for us to reach this point.”

In prepandemic 2019, the USTA said 79.4 million foreign travelers came to the United States, spending an estimated $180.9 billion. In 2020, that had shrunk to 19.2 million visitors — 24 percent of 2019 levels — and spending was down to $40.1 billion, or 22 percent of 2019.

The association’s inbound travel forecast predicts 47.9 million travelers in 2022 spending $100.8 billion.

By dropping pre-departure testing in June, the USTA said it expects 5.4 million additional visitors and $9 billion in additional spending. It doesn’t project full recovery to prepandemic levels until 2025.

In February, travel and tourism groups argued the testing requirement was obsolete because of the high number of omicron cases already in every state, higher vaccination rates and new treatments for the virus.

“I’m glad CDC suspended the burdensome coronavirus testing requirement for international travelers, and I’ll continue to do all I can to support the strong recovery of our hospitality industry,” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., said in a statement.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter. The Associated Press contributed to this story.