Covid-testing rules for inbound flyers: Step forward or stumbling block?

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Negative covid coronavirus test [Credit: Jarun Ontakrai/Shutterstock.com]
Some are hailing the testing rules as a crucial step toward reopening international travel, but others worrying it could have the opposite effect. Photo Credit: Jarun Ontakrai/Shutterstock.com

The new CDC mandate that all inbound flyers show a negative Covid-19 test drew mixed reaction from the travel industry this week, with some hailing it as a crucial step toward reopening international travel but others worrying it could have the opposite effect -- at least in the short term.

U.S. Travel Association executive vice president of public affairs and policy Tori Emerson Barnes said that members of her group "appreciate" the move as it "provides yet another layer of safety for international travel and should be accompanied by other risk-based policies, including lifting international inbound travel restrictions and dropping any post-arrival quarantine requirements."

United Airlines issued a statement calling the move "key to unlocking international borders and safely reopening global travel."

But Zane Kerby, CEO of ASTA, said implementing the rule without reliable, rapid-response testing "threatens to create a logistical crisis."

Zane Kerby
Zane Kerby

"When travelers are stranded because they are unable to obtain an in-destination test in time for departure (if at all), this will set off a domino effect throughout the supply chain -- stranded passengers, missed connections and canceled flights," he said. "The inability to procure a test, and the uncertainty of being stranded will cause many travelers to postpone plans, resulting in further mental, emotional and economic harm."

Travel companies, hotels and destinations were moving quickly last week to ensure American visitors have access to predeparture testing.

In Costa Rica, for instance, Mauricio Castro Lines, director of TAM Travel, said his company had signed a contract with a mobile testing lab to go to guests' hotels to administer tests, and the Costa Rica Tourism Institute said it was working with private labs to offer tests throughout the country. In Los Cabos, the tourism board said it was working with the public and private sector as well as with airport officials to ensure access to testing. And the Aruba Tourism Authority noted the island "has state-of-the-art hospitals and medical facilities that offer PCR tests to outbound travelers, with an average turnaround time of 24 hours."

The Grand Hyatt Baha Mar has both RT-PCR and rapid antigen tests available.
The Grand Hyatt Baha Mar has both RT-PCR and rapid antigen tests available.

The Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, the first property to open in Nassau's megaresort, has begun providing on-site Covid-19 testing upon arrival and departure, with both RT-PCR and rapid antigen tests available.

"Many travelers are required to provide a negative Covid-19 test result when arriving home, and our goal is to make that process as seamless as possible," Baha Mar general manager Ulrich Samietz said in a statement.

Jack Richards
Jack Richards

Additionally, Jack Richards, CEO of Pleasant Holidays, said some of their hotel partners were already setting up in-house testing programs for guests.

"We believe many of the top hotel brands in international destinations such as Mexico, the Caribbean, Tahiti and Costa Rica will have Covid-19 testing facilities located inside the hotel for U.S. guests or will finalize arrangements with local testing companies to provide these tests prior to departure to the U.S.," he said. "We have been notified that several hotels in Mexico already have testing available and we will focus our marketing and promotions on hotels with testing facilities."

However, Vanessa Ledesma, acting CEO and director general of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, said the new requirements "present a tremendous challenge for most of the small countries and jurisdictions in the Caribbean."

Vanessa Ledesma
Vanessa Ledesma

"Most jurisdictions in the region presently lack the availability and access to the volume of testing equipment, support agents and lab facilities which would be required to conduct massive amounts of PCR tests within a very short turnaround time."

And John Werner, president and COO of MAST Travel Network, said "getting tested before you can return home will make travel worrisome for some people, as opposed to testing before you leave home or after you are back home."

"There is no doubt the new CDC rules on testing will have an impact on travel to Mexico," he said. "Mexico and parts of the Caribbean have been selling well for MAST members, and there is concern that this will put a damper on business."

Richards agreed, saying the move would likely boost demand instead for more domestic travel.

"Top destinations like Las Vegas, Orlando, Florida, California, Colorado and others should see a significant increase in travel during this period as substitutes to international destinations," Richards said.

The move, he said, also will increase travel to Hawaii, which requires a negative Covid-19 test to enter the Islands but no second test to return home since it is a U.S. state.

Further, he said, the order's requirement to test children age 2 and up could hinder international travel.

"The traveler assumes the financial responsibility for all Covid-19 travel tests, and this could be expensive for families which include children 2 years and older to pay for pretravel tests."

Testing positive means travelers could also face medical expenses along with the cost of extending their stay.

Some countries, including Costa Rica and Aruba, require travelers to purchase insurance to cover some of those expenses. 

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