“Inundated by American Travelers”: End of test rule opens floodgates for summer travel

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(CNN) — Just as summer heats up, the US is lifting its longstanding requirement that all travelers entering the country present a negative Covid-19 test.

The news brings both a collective sigh of relief and a likely flood of new international travelers to an already chaotic summer season.

For many American travelers, the development means they no longer have to worry about the hassle of testing before returning to the States. Or the cost and strain of staying abroad to quarantine and await a negative test result, even though the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends screening before boarding a flight United States to be tested and not to travel if you are ill.

International travelers to the US, meanwhile, can plan trips without fear of being canceled because of a positive test. Most non-US citizens still need to be vaccinated to travel to the country.

And the stricken travel industry is celebrating the removal of the barrier for both groups of interested parties.

The rule, which went into effect in January 2021, will expire for travelers to the US beginning Sunday, June 12 at 12:01 am ET. The CDC says it will reevaluate the rule if the Covid-19 situation changes.

The development comes after heavy pressure from tour operators and tourism groups as the industry continues to recover after more than two years of a pandemic-related downturn.

For months such organizations have been calling for the testing requirements to be scrapped, as has been the case in Canada and the UK and most of Europe since March. Following Friday’s news of the rule’s end, groups that issued statements welcoming the move included the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) and the US Travel Association (USTA).

Chip Rogers, President and CEO of AHLA, described it as a “significant win for hotels and the broader travel industry” in a statement released Friday.

USTA President and CEO Roger Dow, meanwhile, emphasized that ending testing requirements could bring an additional 5.4 million visitors to the United States and an additional $9 billion in travel spending by the end of 2022.

Tourists and locals stroll through a tourist area of ​​Athens, Greece on June 1, 2022.

Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP via Getty Images

“2022 is three seasons in one”

While many in the travel industry support the development, some experts warn that increased demand, reduced availability and higher prices are sure to materialize, exacerbating an already chaotic travel landscape both in the US and abroad.

“Europe is being swamped by American travelers,” Mina Agnos, president of Travelive, an agency specializing in travel to Greece with offices in Athens and Delray Beach, Fla., told CNN Travel via email.

“In discussions with travel consultants in the US, the consensus is that 2022 will be ‘three seasons in one.’ Hotel availability is very tight and local services [such as] Tour guides, drivers, local air, ferry and rail services, and restaurants will all be busy this season,” Agnos said.

A result that the tourism industry, especially the hotel industry, is enthusiastic about.

Chitra Stern, CEO of Martinhal Resorts, a family-focused luxury hotel group with properties across Portugal, said US testing restrictions have “put many travelers off” planning trips abroad, particularly families, who are the brand’s core demographics.

With a negative test no longer required to return to the US, Stern anticipates an increase in the number of US-based guests – the main market for Martinhal’s properties in downtown Lisbon – booking stays in Portugal and across Europe.

“We now expect to welcome many more Americans booking last-minute summer vacations and long-weekend city breaks,” Stern said.

London expects American visitors to surge after dropping testing rule  US airline passengers arriving in London nearly reached pre-pandemic levels during Queen Elizabeth II's platinum jubilee.

London expects American visitors to surge after dropping testing rule US airline passengers arriving in London nearly reached pre-pandemic levels during Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee.

Abbie Trayler Smith for CNN

Visit London CEO Laura Citron expects a similar surge in US travelers, who make up London’s largest inbound tourism market, heading to the capital this summer.

“During the pandemic, we saw an increase in bookings from the US to London as travel restrictions were lifted,” Citron told CNN Travel via text message, adding that US-to-London air passengers during the week of the pandemic were almost at pre-pandemic levels Pandemic hit platinum anniversary celebrations.

According to Agnos, travelers looking to take a Greek vacation this summer should start planning their trips right away and expect to contend with crowds. If Agnos’ deal is any indication that the Mediterranean country will see an abundance of tourism in the coming months, so much so that June is “virtually sold out” for Travelive guides, vehicles for transfers and even yachts, Agnos said.

It is a first in the tour operator’s 21-year history.

“Hotel availability is a serious problem, even in areas like Athens and Mykonos where stocks have always been plentiful,” Agnos explained. “It’s the first time we’ve had to stop accepting business due to lack of availability.”

A view of Boni Windmill and the old port of Mykonos in May 2020. This summer accommodation is going to be tight, says a travel consultant.

A view of Boni Windmill and the old port of Mykonos in May 2020. This summer accommodation is going to be tight, says a travel consultant.

Byron Smith/Getty Images

“Increase in Transatlantic Demand”

It remains to be seen how much the lifting of the restriction will lead to an increase in flight costs. But it’s safe to say that with the inevitable increase in demand, passengers should book flights as soon as possible to get the best deal.

According to Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, an airfare tracking and booking website, increased demand could prompt airlines to expand routes and service to popular destinations like Europe.

“I would expect demand for transatlantic travel to increase and airlines to respond by adding more flights to capture the new swathes of travelers eager to travel between the U.S. and Europe,” Keyes said.

It’s definitely a matter of supply and demand, Kyle Potter, editor of flight deals and travel website Thrifty Traveler, told CNN Travel.

“A lot of domestic fares are higher than ever and that’s because that’s where demand is greatest,” Potter said. “As more people look to Europe and beyond, we could easily see airlines increasing fares, especially during the peak summer season.”

Potter recommends traveling in mid to late August and early September. “We’re still finding some great deals to Europe, such as $500 (or less) non-stop fares to London or Rome during this period after the transatlantic rush has eased somewhat.”

Travelers to high-traffic destinations should also exercise a little more patience given the staffing shortages that the travel industry continues to struggle with in the hotel, food service and airline sectors.

“I have concerns about the delivery of services this year,” Agnos said. “Staffing remains very difficult so service levels may not be comparable to pre-Covid levels, particularly in luxury travel services.”

Kathy Hirst, a travel manager at Black Pearl Luxury Services, a Salt Lake City-based tour operator that specializes in custom tours, said that while she’s “excited” by the lifting of testing requirements, she expects some frustration from customers waiting until testing with the Booking international travel was no longer necessary and availability may now be limited.

Visitors were already queuing to get into Paris' famous Louvre Museum on April 29th.  The summer travel season will be very busy in many parts of Europe.

Visitors were already queuing to get into Paris’ famous Louvre Museum on April 29th. The summer travel season will be very busy in many parts of Europe.

AFP via Getty Images

“Now that they are ready to book, they will most likely be disappointed by the lack of inventory of tours, hotels, cruises and airline tickets,” Hirst said via email. “Right now we are finding that many hotels, airlines, tour operators and cruise lines are struggling to operate due to a lack of staff.”

Like Agnos, Hirst has also noticed a significant increase in inquiries and bookings in European hotspots such as France, Greece, Italy and the UK. She said destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico are also “hugely popular,” and demand across the board has been so high that some of her colleagues are turning down requests to book individual trips.

“Planning these itineraries is a lot of fun but very time consuming, and so many consultants turn down new clients because we are so inundated with requests,” Hirst said.

“People have waited two years to travel and the pent-up demand is a good problem for us, but it also makes the days very long and stressful,” she said. “Hopefully things will settle down in the coming months, but right now travel is hotter than I’ve seen in my 20+ years in the industry.”

CNN’s Marnie Hunter and Forrest Brown contributed to this report.


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