The travel industry, Americans waiting for far-off loved ones and global tourists who want to return to the United States got the news they had been waiting for Monday — the White House announced the end of the international travel ban that has been in place since early last year.
Beginning in early November, the ban, which primarily impacted nonessential travel from 33 countries, will be replaced with a rule that requires foreign nationals flying to the United States to be fully vaccinated and test negative for the coronavirus within three days of their trip. Unvaccinated American travelers will have to test within a day before their trip, as well as after arriving in the U.S.
The news was cheered by travel insiders in the United States, who have long been pushing for international visitors to return. In 2019, the country saw 79.3 million international arrivals, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office. That number dropped to 19.4 million last year.
After more than 550 days largely without international visitors, domestic travelers will again have some company from the rest of the world. What could that mean for Americans’ future vacation plans, travel prices, crowding and available inventory? We spoke with six travel experts to find out.
— International flight prices could drop
While flights abroad are already relatively cheap, Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights and author of “Take More Vacations” said the end of the travel ban could mean more inexpensive fares for trans-Atlantic trips. If airlines see a spike in interest from travel-hungry Europeans, they may add more capacity to meet the demand. This happened earlier this year when European countries began opening their borders to Americans.
“That added capacity tended to add more downward pressure on fares than the upward pressure that was created by the increased demand,” Keyes said. “The end result was cheaper prices than what you had seen previously.”
— Airlines could add international routes
Before the pandemic, business travel dictated where new routes were planned since it brought in the most profit. But with the absence of that lucrative market, airlines have been responding to the needs of leisure customers. Keyes said airlines have accommodated increased demand for flights to/from vacation destinations and “second cities” (i.e., smaller metropolitan areas such as Charlotte or Seattle).
With the end of the international travel ban, routes abroad should follow suit. “Instead of Frankfurt or London, more South of France or Barcelona, places that are really kind of dreamy,” Keyes said as hypothetical examples.
— Expect competition in Europeans’ favorite U.S. destinations
If you’re considering a trip to some place Europeans favor, book it sooner rather than later.
Alisa Cohen, founder of the Virtuoso travel agency Luxe Traveler Club, said you will have to consider not only Europeans coming stateside for destinations such as New York City and Aspen in Colorado, but local travelers, too.
“There are people that still don’t want to travel abroad,” Cohen said. “So the domestic demand is high already, and then the Europeans that all want to travel … anywhere that has international appeal, the demand is going to be full.”
The arrival of visitors from other parts of the world will be crucial for those destinations, which have been hit hard because of their dependence on international tourism, said Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics.
“The parts of the country that have already recovered — which are largely smaller destinations, beach resorts and mountain destinations — they’re not the ones where we’re going to see the most significant influx over the next six months,” Sacks said. “It’s going to be the cities.”
— Some travel prices could rise
Adit Damodaran, an economist at the travel app Hopper, said in an email that he doesn’t expect to see domestic airfare change significantly since travelers probably will not be crisscrossing the United States. But, he said, some other forms of travel could see price hikes.
“I do think the higher demand could exacerbate the rental car shortage and lead to higher rental car daily rates as well as hotel prices,” Damodaran said. “I think we’re definitely going to see more crowds at attractions.”
He said that could further motivate domestic travelers to seek out “off-the-beaten path” destinations.
— Numbers won’t increase right away — or necessarily that much
Amir Eylon, CEO of Longwoods International, a tourism-focused market research consultancy, said he expects it to take months for the pipeline from booking to traveling to evolve. The rules go into effect in early November.
“All the planes aren’t going to be full tomorrow,” he said.
Sacks pointed out that in 2019, international visits represented only about 6 percent of overnight trips in the United States, with domestic travel making up the rest.
“I think that the main thing to realize is that on a volume-of-people basis, international travelers represent a relatively small share of travel compared to domestic across the board,” Sacks said. “At least on a macro level, there’s not going to be a significant influx that really changes the experience of the average U.S. traveler in America.”
While Sacks said he doesn’t see the change as massive, he believes it is “critically important.”
“In a sense, this is exactly what the doctor ordered for the U.S. travel recovery,” he said.