The travel industry is open to vaccine passports being one of several options that business could use to screen customers, but not as anyone’s exclusive mandate.
On a news conference call held via Zoom Thursday, U.S. Travel Association officials said they want to see people get vaccinated, but they think it would be a mistake if travel businesses require vaccines.
So-called “vaccine passports” — banned in Florida by Gov. Ron DeSantis — could be acceptable as one form of assurance that businesses might show their customers are relatively safe from COVID-19, but businesses should also accept other options, such as COVID-19 test results, U.S. Travel Officials said.
Vaccine passports have become a hot issue within the travel industry as some segments, notably the cruise industry, view them as the best way to build public confidence again after a disastrous 2020 cruise season ended abruptly because cruise ships became floating symbols of the pandemic.
“We think vaccinations are extremely important, we’re pushing very hard for people … not just in the U.S. but around the world to get vaccinated, but not so that is the only criteria to travel,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow. “No matter what happens, we’re going to wind up with 30 or 40% of the U.S. population, and probably around the world, that won’t be vaccinated and so it can be a real challenge.
“What we’re more in favor of is a layered approach, people being able to say they’ve been vaccinated, or they’ve had a test within 72 hours, or had COVID. There’s multiple ways of doing this,” Dow said. “We’re also calling on the federal government to set standards or guidelines. But to say the only way you can get on a plane or go to a hotel or go to a theme park, is to be vaccinated, we think is a mistake. We think it’s important to be vaccinated, but it can’t be the only criteria.”
Those comments came after the presentation of good news for the travel industry. Americans are so eager to hit the road again that leisure travel bookings already are up considerably for this summer, even compared with pre-pandemic times.
Julius Robinson, Marriott International’s chief sales and marketing officer and co-chair of the industry’s “Let’s Go There” coalition effort to relaunch travel, said leisure bookings are up 30-40% at his company compared to 2019.
“We anticipate those numbers to continue across the summer and into the fall,” Robinson said.
Florida is booked solid, Dow said.
“If you want to get a hotel room at any resort in Florida, you would have to book way in advance. They are sold out and doing extremely well,” Dow said.
That’s only part of the story, however. Business travel and conference travel are down. International travel still is all but shut down. So leisure travelers are filling hotel rooms that had previously been filled by others.
For that, U.S. Travel Association officials said they are urging the Biden administration and Congress to publish updated guidelines and standards to open business travel and international travel, particularly with the United Kingdom and Canada. Those routes are complicated, however, by British and Canadian policies that see America as a risky destination for their citizens.
“Canada and the UK both should be on our immediate reentry lists, that we should be able to reopen both of those countries,” said Tori Emerson Barnes, the association’s executive vice president for public affairs and policy. “That’s something that we’re working on and have strong bipartisan support in Congress.”
The travel and hospitality industry lost $500 billion dollars during the pandemic and 65% of all jobs lost in the United States were either in or supported by the travel industry, Dow said.
“But we’re on the road back. We have a long way to go,” Dow said.
That was evidenced by a Harris Poll the association released Thursday, commissioned by 75 travel companies and organizations in the Let’s Go There caution. It found that 77% of Americans want to travel this summer.
— Of those, 36% already have planned trips and 30% more already have booked trips.
— 53% of those planning to travel will be doing so for the first time since the pandemic.
— 55% of Americans who responded said they are ready to take a trip right now or are optimistic about being able to do so soon.