The U.S. on Monday announced plans to ease international airline travel restrictions to allow vaccinated foreign nationals to once again travel to the country starting this fall.
The new policy, slated to go into effect in early November, will require travelers to show proof that they are fully vaccinated before boarding a U.S.-bound plane as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of the flight, White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said.
Testing requirements also will tighten for unvaccinated Americans, who will now be required to be tested within a day of their trip to the U.S. and again after returning.
For Southern Nevada, the changes signal the return of one of the key cogs that has been missing amid the recovery of the region’s tourism-reliant economy.
The news was met with cheers by tourism and travel officials.
“Today marks an important turning point in the recovery of international visitation essential to Las Vegas’ tourism industry. This milestone is also significant and welcome news for many of our major tradeshows and conventions that draw exhibitors and attendees from around the world,” Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority CEO Steve Hill said in a statement.
Virginia Valentine, president of the Nevada Resort Association, called the move an “essential step for Las Vegas’ recovery to continue moving forward.”
“Las Vegas attracted nearly six million international visitors in 2019, which supported tens of thousands of jobs and generated billions of dollars for our local economy. The lack of this key business has had a substantial economic impact on our community over the past 18 months,” Valentine said in a statement.
Roger Dow, CEO and president of the U.S. Travel Association, said getting the international travelers back is “huge,” in large part because they tend to stay longer and spend more than their domestic counterparts.
“When you look at CES and all the monster conventions that come here (to Las Vegas), if they can’t have the international buyer here, we lose,” said Dow, who’s in town for the travel association’s annual conference.
When those international flights will return remains up in the air. Some of the logistics are still not clear, including which vaccines will be acceptable under the U.S.’s system and whether those unapproved in the U.S., such as AstraZeneca, would be acceptable. Zients said that decision would be up to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which will also require airlines to collect contact information from all U.S- bound travelers to facilitate tracing efforts.
The U.S. has been one of the slowest countries to lift international travel restrictions, frustrating allies in the United Kingdom and European Union as well as tourism and travel officials.
The EU and UK had previously moved to allow vaccinated U.S. travelers in without quarantines, in an effort to boost business and tourism. But the EU recommended last month that some travel restrictions be reimposed on U.S. travelers to the bloc because of the rampant spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus in America.
In May, Rosemary Vassiliadis, McCarran International Airport’s director of aviation, testified before a Senate subcommittee and pushed for the federal government to find ways to restore international travel to the U.S., saying that the country’s “blanket approach is unnecessarily crippling our economic productivity.”
At McCarran, domestic air travel has started to look more like it did pre-pandemic. International travel, however, has continued to lag.
International traveler volume for for first seven months of 2021 is down nearly 90 percent compared with the same period in 2019, with international carriers accounting or just 246,054 passengers at McCarran during that time, compared nearly 2.2 million in 2019.
“For Las Vegas, so much of our travel is dependent on people coming in for tourism reasons,” Chris Jones, chief marketing office for McCarran International Airport, said.
“In terms of domestic air, we are back to where we were,” Jones added. “International [travel] has been a huge missing component.”
Jones said the return of those international flights will vary by market and by airline. Some airlines plan their international schedules in six-month segments, which could mean that some carriers may not bring those flights back until sometime in the spring, he added.
Jones said that officials from McCarran and the LVCVA will be in Milan for a conference next month to meet with air carriers.