U.K. eases Covid travel restrictions -- travel officials urge the U.S. to do the same

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Black traveler tourist London [Credit: William Perugini/Shutterstock.com]
According to the WTTC, U.S. visitors to the U.K. contributed more than more than 4 billion British pounds to the economy in 2019. Photo Credit: William Perugini/Shutterstock.com

The travel industry applauded the U.K.'s recent move to allow vaccinated U.S. and E.U. travelers into the country without quarantining, though organizations like the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) and U.S. Travel Association were quick to remind U.S. leaders that a reciprocal policy would be necessary to maximize any positive economic impact.

Set to go into effect next week, the U.K.'s updated protocols will allow U.S. and EU travelers who are fully vaccinated to take and submit pre- and post-arrival Covid tests in lieu of a quarantine. Exempt from the policy, however, are French travelers, who will still be required to self-isolate.

In a statement, WTTC senior vice president and acting CEO Virginia Messina said that the U.K.'s decision will provide "a vital lifeline to airlines and businesses" across the travel and tourism sectors, with the cruise industry, in particular, also able to "breathe a sigh of relief" as cruise departures from England resume.

Messina cited research indicating that pre-pandemic, U.S. visitors to the U.K. contributed more than more than 4 billion British pounds to the economy in 2019.

"However, unless the U.S. responds with a similar move, we won't see the full benefit," warned Messina.

"Harmonization would restore international mobility, ensure reduced protocols for vaccinated travelers, emphasize the importance of global vaccine recognition and enable global use of 'digital health passes.'"

Similarly, U.S. Travel executive vice president of public affairs and policy Tori Emerson Barnes called the U.K.'s travel restriction rollback "a wise decision."

"It's time for U.S. leaders to do the same and set a timeline to reopen our national borders," Emerson Barnes urged. "We encourage them to start with vaccinated travelers from the U.K., E.U. and Canada. The reality is there's no difference between a vaccinated American and those vaccinated in the U.K., the E.U. and Canada."

Meanwhile, U.S. interest in travel to the U.K. appears to be robust. According to recent data from metasearch site Skyscanner, the U.K. is the second most-searched international destination among U.S. users for the month of July, after Mexico.

Mark Crossey, a U.S. traveler expert at Skyscanner, called the U.K.'s reopening efforts "a promising sign" for a broader return of transatlantic air travel.

"While advice from the U.S. government against travel to the U.K. remains in place, this is an indication of progress towards this highly anticipated route reopening," said Crossey. "For this route to open again in a way that allows tourism to return at scale, there needs to be a reciprocal agreement from both nations."

For Daniel Scher, a travel consultant with Strong Travel Services, a Dallas-based Virtuoso agency, the U.K.'s announcement has been one "we have been waiting on for a long time."

"It's been such positive news, and we foresee great things, so long as nothing backslides," said Scher. "London is such a big market for us on both the corporate and leisure sides, so having it open is huge. We expect that it'll help bring back clients that may have disappeared, who maybe go to the U.K. every year or travel there to visit family, as well as help our corporate clients get back to [their business] there."

Likewise, U.K. hotels appear well-positioned to take advantage of pent-up demand.

For the Londoner, a 350-room luxury property set to debut on London's Leicester Square in September as part of the Preferred Hotels & Resorts network, the U.K.'s announcement "couldn't have come at a better time," according to the hotel's managing director, Charles Oak.

"We are already noticing an increase in booking queries from the United States, especially since domestic restrictions were lifted earlier this month, and thanks to a number of major global events scheduled for the fall," added Oak.

"There's a palpable energy in the city right now."

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