ASTA: CDC’s Return Test Requirement Is “Chilling” Caribbean Travel 

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You’re on a Caribbean trip, you’re fully vaccinated or boosted, and yet, much of the last day of your vacation is spent trying to take a Covid test just to be able to return home.

Right now, the US CDC requires all inbound travelers, including US citizens (and even the vaccinated), to have a negative Covid taken 24 hours before their flight home. 

The above is a story with which many travelers to the Caribbean are very familiar.

Increasingly, the test has become a significant hurdle for travelers and, more importantly, a large tax of sorts on Caribbean destinations, which have had to significantly expand testing for travelers and have to deal with long-term quarantine logistics for travelers who otherwise would have already been back home. (Note: travelers to the USVI and Puerto Rico are exempt from the return test requirement.)

Critics are calling for a change to exempt vaccinated Americans from the requirement — chief among them the American Society of Travel Agents, the leading global advocate for the travel industry. 

To learn more about how the test is impacting travel to the Caribbean and the broader industry, Caribbean Journal talked to Zane Kerby, president and CEO of the American Society to Travel Agents. 

What are the CDC testing protocols for returning citizens?

Currently, the CDC requires that in-bound travelers to the United States have a negative covid test, taken on the day before their departing flight. 

What are the impacts of this policy on travel?

In a word, chilling.  While some US travelers are intrepid, many have postponed or cancelled trips abroad.  They do not want to risk being quarantined in a foreign country for 5 – 10 days at their own expense.  They don’t want to risk having to navigate a foreign country’s healthcare system. They don’t want to risk ‘false positive’ covid tests.  They don’t want to risk losing pre-payments for vacations they may not be able to take.  I recently tested positive and quarantined for 5 days in a room with my wife and 4 teenage children.  It was, not optimal.   

How is this affecting Caribbean travel destinations?

The Caribbean has welcomed a growing number of US tourists. In fact, according to the US Department of Commerce, the share of outbound tourists from the US grew from 3.65M in 2000 to 9.9 million in 2019.  The Caribbean was the fastest growing outbound market over that 20 year span.  While we’re encouraged by the increasing number of travelers to the region, the in-bound testing rule is severely limiting the overall number of tourists who are able to enjoy their favorite Caribbean spots. 

Is the CDC considering changing the rules?

We’re hopeful that the CDC will revise the rule soon, but are unaware of any plans to do so at this time. 

What sort of feedback are you getting from the administration?

Currently, the Biden administration has not responded to ASTA’s call to remove the inbound testing requirement for vaccinated travelers.  In addition to sending our own letter, ASTA joined with other hospitality and travel industry groups including Airlines for America, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the U.S. Travel Association and many others to ask that the requirement be rescinded for vaccinated travelers. 

What are the rules in other countries?

Other countries including the UK, Ireland, Sweden, Portugal, Greece and others are dropping their in-bound testing requirements for the vaccinated. Studies have proven that testing doesn’t slow the spread of the omicron, and does little to curb hospitalization rates.  Vaccinated travelers are much less likely to become hospitalized as a result of Covid.  

What is ASTA doing to try and help?

Petitioning our own government, and working with like-minded associations around the world to bring clarity and consistency to public policy.  Our position is clear: masking, social distancing, and vaccinations are powerful tools in place that severely limit hospitalizations from Covid-19.  As such, the in-bound testing requirement for vaccinated travelers should be discarded.   Once rescinded, we’re confident that millions more travelers from the United States will plan and enjoy travel to the Caribbean.  

What can our readers do to help? 

Contact your local elected officials.  Ask them to work with their diplomatic counterparts in the US.   Pressure from both sides will help compel the Biden Administration’s CDC to rescind this onerous regulation. 

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