ASTA leader denounces country-specific omicron travel bans

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T1206ZANEKERBY_C_HR [Credit: ASTA]
Zane Kerby at ASTA's 2021 Advocacy Dinner. Photo Credit: ASTA

ASTA president and CEO Zane Kerby panned the Biden administration's decision to restrict travel from some countries in southern Africa in an effort to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 omicron variant.

"Country-specific travel bans are too blunt an instrument and often create unintended but substantial economic and societal damage," Kerby said in a statement on Tuesday. "This swing back to country-specific bans, coming just weeks after the U.S. reopened its borders to fully vaccinated travelers, is deeply frustrating and comes just as the industry's recovery was gaining steam."

Kerby called for the Biden administration and other governments around the world to lift country-specific bans "as soon as possible."

ASTA's head was joined by others in the industry calling for the removal of country-specific bans.

"Covid variants are of concern, but closed borders have not prevented their presence in the United States while vaccinations have proved incredibly durable," Tori Emerson Barnes, U.S. Travel's executive vice president of public affairs and policy, said in a statement. 

"That is why America's travel industry is a vocal proponent of everyone getting a vaccine," Barnes added. "With a vaccine and testing requirement in place to enter the U.S., we continue to believe that assessing an individual's risk and health status is the best way to welcome qualified global travelers into the United States."

Kerby also pointed to the U.S.'s "robust system of masking, testing and vaccination requirements," which "obviates the need for country-specific bans every time a new Covid variant emerges, which is inevitable."

The European Tourism Association and the European Travel Agents & Tour Operators Association recently urged governments to avoid restricting movement across Europe.

"Considering that the EU adult population is now 76.6% vaccinated and with community transmission already high in most EU member states, measures aimed at limiting border crossing would indeed not carry any public health benefit, but would negatively impact local economies," the groups said in a statement.

Travelers more worried about restrictions 

Alex Sharpe, president and CEO of Signature Travel Network, said on Tuesday that travelers seem more concerned about travel restrictions than omicron itself.

Worries surround how governments will react to the variant and whether travelers will get stuck somewhere, he said.
While some clients are likely concerned about the variant, Sharpe said, "they weren't the ones booking for now. They were the ones booking for Q3 2022 and after.

"But those that want to travel still want to travel," he said.

Covid relief still needed

Kerby also encouraged U.S. government officials to provide targeted relief to severely affected businesses, like ASTA's membership base, travel agencies.

"As we have said time and again, when government action taken in the interest of protecting public health has a disproportionally negative impact on a specific industry, as is the case here, logic dictates that the government provide targeted relief to the businesses most severely affected," Kerby said.

Specifically, he encouraged Congress to pass the Save Act, which would include travel agencies in the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program. He also called for the restoration of the Employee Retention Tax Credit for the fourth quarter.  

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