Usually a busy place, the lobby of the Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on June 4th of this year … [+]
The Biden administration’s decision to re-allow Europeans to fly to the United States – beginning sometime in November – was cheered on Monday by leaders across the deplorable US travel and tourism industry. But what they didn’t say, at least not in public, was louder.
“Why did it take you so long?”
Had the government lifted the ban on most European travelers in the US earlier this summer, it would have likely at least $ 100 billion in additional travel and tourism revenue this year, and arguably as much as another $ 320 billion .
For weeks, executives from all branches of the financially weak travel and tourism industry have been muttering bitterly about why it took the government so long to lift all or part of the entry ban for travelers from Europe. This ban, imposed by the Trump administration at the start of the first wave of the pandemic in Q1 2020, drove the number of European visitors to the US from 14.5 million, who had spent an estimated $ 640 billion here in 2019 , dropped to just $ 2.2 million in 2020. And since the ban won’t be lifted for an unspecified date in November, those numbers won’t be much, if anything, better this year.
But it didn’t have to be that bad this year. By mid-May, the number of new Covid-19 cases, the number of hospital admissions and the number of deaths had decreased significantly enough that the airlines reported surprisingly sharp increases in the number of flights booked for the summer. Hotels also reported strong growth in advance reservations.
While these pre-sale numbers were still more than 50% lower than before Covid-19 2019, the trend was clear. A surprising number of coupées were both fond of traveling and in view of the rapidly increasing number of vaccinates who felt safe enough to actually begin. And the picture was even brighter in Europe, emerging from the darkest shadows of the pandemic a few months before North America.
The leaders of the travel industry – especially those of the high-profile airlines – campaigned aggressively for the White House and Congress to enable foreign travel to this country in time for the important summer vacation season. At first they did so discreetly, but when none of the ends of Pennsylvania Avenue responded they went public in early June and publicly pleaded with President Biden. In the second week of June, they hoped that he and European leaders – or at least British Prime Minister Boris Johnson – would convince Biden to reopen the North Atlantic routes at the Group of Seven meeting this month in Britain.
But it didn’t happen then, and it didn’t happen in August when most European nations had started allowing Americans to fly there, provided they could prove they were vaccinated and had recent negative Covid-19 test results.
As a result, tens of millions of Europeans who would have visited the US even though the pandemic persisted at a reduced level did not come here this summer. And while it’s likely that the arrival of the delta variant of the virus in late summer would have curbed some fall trips from Europe, it’s likely that a larger group of fall vacationers from Europe would have advanced anyway. They would have been boosted by the fact that by definition they would be vaccinated and therefore much less likely to infect or spread. By then, they would also have realized that in the vast majority of cases of vaccinated people who get Covid-19, their symptoms are usually much milder.
But they never got that chance.
And apart from several intellectually weak and rhetorically nonsensical remarks – as well as the formation of several committees to investigate the status of the virus in various European and other nations – the government did nothing. By the way, neither does Congress. (Note: Several nations, including some in Europe, have again imposed limited travel bans on Americans in light of the wave of Delta variants in this country).
Just last week, two leading publications widely believed to be strong voices from the political center-left, the Washington Post and its sister publication Foreign Policy Magazine, called on the Biden administration to unnecessarily extend the ban on most European visitors to this nation ( and in some cases visitors from other nations). Not only did they argue that these nations had lifted the bans on Americans from visiting them weeks, even months earlier, and that the United States’ failure to reciprocate was inexcusable on political, scientific, and common sense grounds.
In a September 13 letter in Foreign Policy, columnist Edward Alden, a senior councilor on Foreign Relations, accused the Biden administration, leaders of both parties in Congress, and the Republican governors of Florida, Texas, and other southern states for having done so European ban for “irrational” and blunt political reasons.
Politico, the left-wing news site on Washington’s politics, previously quoted Jeff Zients, coordinator of the White House’s response to the virus, as saying that the White House feared it would pay a political price if it were viewed as a so-called favoritism “Vaccination cards” because some die-hard conservatives see them as an attack on the constitutional guarantees of personal freedom.
Even without this criticism, the government’s efforts to defend the continued existence of the European travel ban to the United States became immeasurable. While most European nations are well ahead of the US on vaccination percentages, the Biden government is broadly accused of doing nothing to stop the threat of the coronavirus spreading from the 700,000 or more immigrants who have been illegal since May have crossed the southern border or will do so by November. And that number of 700,000 does not count those the border patrol did not capture or encounter after crossing.
In any case, less than 5% of them are likely to be vaccinated. And it is logically possible that the real figure is less than 1% of those vaccinated. For example, the government has and is staying away from fully vaccinated Europeans for the time being, while allowing up to half a million unvaccinated illegal cross-border commuters into the country. (Less than half of the estimated 700,000 cross-border commuters since May have been or are being deported.)
Whether the government has finally responded belatedly to the requests of travel industry leaders, to criticism from European leaders who have publicly criticized Biden on the matter, or to growing criticism from both the political right and left in this country, it is at least responded, finally. Unfortunately, the economic cost of maintaining the ban five or six months longer than absolutely necessary was enormous.
Looking at the spending of European visitors to the US in 2019 – $ 640 billion – it’s a safe bet that even in a still historically weak travel environment, there would have been several million more such travelers to the US had the ban been on Early summer when both epidemiological facts and increasing travel demand supported such a decision. It is difficult, to say the least, to estimate how many would have come but couldn’t and how much they would have spent if they had come here. But it is reasonable to assume that Europeans’ extra spending in the US economy of at least $ 100 billion would have been the result. A more aggressive estimate would be that the five- or six-month delay cost the US economy half of the $ 640 million Europeans spent here throughout 2019, or $ 320 billion. But whatever that sum may have been, it’s a lot of money that the ailing travel and tourism industries desperately needed.
So why did it take the Biden government so long to make this decision that US Europeans and their money could have opened months earlier? Whatever the answer, the answer will be inadequate.