Coronavirus Struggle Keeps U.S. Hesitant Toward International Travel

The White House’s cautious position about reopening U.S. borders is facing pressure from the European Union…

Yesterday, Reuters reported that President Joe Biden’s administration is working on eventually reopening the country. According to an anonymous White House official, the plan will include a requirement for the most foreign visitors to be fully vaccinated.

The White House wants to reopen nonessential international travel. But rising COVID-19 cases and worries about the more-transmissible Delta variant are stalling the process. Former President Donald Trump closed off the nation’s borders from most European visitors in March 2020, and Biden has kept the policy active so far during his term.

But in the past three months, there have been signs of a push toward relaxing those restrictions. Back in June, Biden formed work groups to investigate reopening international corridors with Canada, Mexico, the European Union, and the U.K. Reuters’ source says these groups are building a new foreign travel system that will use a “phased approach.”

Meanwhile, the EU initiated its own international travel program on July 1. Canada and the U.K. have also started to ease border restrictions. But the travel industry expects it will take weeks to months before America loosens its grip on international travel.

According to the Wall Street Journal, this is ruffling the feathers of some EU officials. Yesterday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen requested the U.S. relax its border policy. The EU has already suggested its member states allow U.S. tourists as long as they provide negative coronavirus test results. The WSJ says that since the U.S. isn’t following suit, EU members are debating their own ban on nonessential American tourists.

Trips between Europe and North America generated $37.5 billion in sales in 2019. Transatlantic travel only made up about 2.2% of total travel that year, but produced 6.2% of revenue for the industry. That’s because it’s the biggest market for long-distance travel. During longer flights, airlines make money from higher-priced business-class seats.

Von der Leyen’s request is partly due to economic reasons. Tourism accounts for about 10.3% of Europe’s gross domestic product and 11.7% of its employment. And there would be an economic benefit for the U.S., too. If Biden opens travel to European visitors, it would unlock more sales and revenue for U.S. air carriers like United Airlines (UAL) and Delta Air Lines (DAL).

Still, if coronavirus cases continue to rise in the U.S., the White House will likely keep its tight borders…

COVID-19 vaccination rates in some parts of the country have slowed. If more people are vaccinated, it will help slow the spread of the Delta variant. That could lower hospitalizations and coronavirus cases nationwide. This would likely encourage the Biden administration to finally reopen U.S. borders.

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