What the lifted travel restrictions mean for the pandemic and the tourism industry

The floodgates opened at airports across the U.S. earlier this month as the White House lifted COVID restrictions on international travel. Tourists from more than 30 countries were previously barred from entry, including people from the U.K, Brazil, Mexico, India and much of the European Union. For those eager to travel, this change couldn’t have come sooner.

Travelers are now required to have proof of vaccination and a recent negative COVID test. There are several exceptions to these requirements, including exceptions for youth and travelers from areas where vaccine availability is low. The biggest concern for everyone in lifting travel restrictions is (or at least should be) the potential for creating another COVID wave. Luckily, it seems unlikely that one will occur.

Currently, the U.S is handling the pandemic decently. While not as low as they have been in the past, new case and death numbers are down significantly from past peaks. According to CDC data, nearly 60 percent of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, and with vaccination requirements in place, now is an acceptable time to lift travel restrictions enforced for public health and safety.

Allowing for international travel is an obvious boon for the tourism sector. The travel industry was all but killed during the peak of the pandemic, as people were highly hesitant to leave their houses, let alone travel to another country. Without the old restrictions, the outlook for the tourism industry is pretty good. Research from the World Travel & Tourism Council suggests that the travel industry could see more than 35% growth in 2021 and exceed pre-pandemic levels in 2022.

However, if the pandemic has proven anything, it’s that the future is unpredictable. Those in the tourism industry should be cautious, as the return to normal may be slow.

The number of people traveling could fluctuate for a variety of reasons.

COVID-related anxieties and fears could temporarily decrease travel. One surge in new cases, including cases among unvaccinated travelers, could scare travelers and airlines.

Other nations could put restrictions on tourism themselves, discouraging travel. The U.S isn’t the only nation with the power to put restrictions on its travel industry. Any requirements for returning travelers in other nations could discourage trips to the U.S.

While airlines and hotels will likely see the bulk of any increase in tourism, other travel-adjacent businesses may not see as much of a boost. In the retail sector, where the return of global travelers is highly anticipated, if travel doesn’t pick back up quickly or tourists are hesitant to go shopping, businesses and tourist hubs will have a hard time.

It’s high time travel restrictions were loosened in the United States, and it is a good sign that they have been. The pandemic is being handled sufficiently well, and we have the ability to verify vaccination. Lifting the restrictions was the right call, but even so, things won’t return to normal instantly. Any number of things could set back the tourism industry’s precarious recovery in the next few months, so businesses that rely on travel still face turbulent times ahead.