Blane Bachelor, CNN
The announcement that vaccinated foreigners would be allowed to return to the US in November after an 18-month ban was welcome news for families struggling with cross-border separations, airlines itchy to resume long-haul flights, and avid tourists and industry insiders .
Travel planning is also already in progress: According to the newly published data from the travel booking platform Hopper, user searches for all international flights to the USA increased by 27% compared to the previous day on September 20, the day of the announcement, while the search for flights from Europe in the US rose 68%.
But as excited as travelers to the US may be to meet up with loved ones, attend an IRL business conference, or snap selfies in front of landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, they should be equally prepared for a travel experience that is very different these days – and still constantly changing.
First, there are new entry restrictions.
All foreigners are required to provide proof of vaccination and negative testing within three days of travel (unvaccinated US citizens will have to undergo more stringent tests in the meantime), as well as complying with the enhanced contract tracking measures.
Locally, health and safety regulations that vary widely from ocean to ocean (e.g., strict anti-masking states like Florida versus state masking requirements and vaccine requirements for indoor eating and other New York activities) do so well as guaranteed generates mix-up.
A patchwork of security measures
“When we Europeans think of the US, we think of a big country,” said Catherine Chaulet, a Boston-based French-American dual citizen and president and CEO of Global DMC Partners, a network of independent destination management companies.
“And the reality is that there are many different states with many different personalities and this will show more than ever in the health and hygiene protocols.”
Complicating the picture is critical immigration guidelines that have not yet been made public by the US government and health officials, namely how vaccination status is assessed and verified. Digital certificates, also known as vaccination certificates, which are popular in many countries around the world, have not yet caught on in the USA, for example.
Incoming travelers must be âfully vaccinated,â which, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, includes both those who have received vaccines approved for use in the United States and those approved by the World Health Organization for the Emergency Response are listed and may not have received such approval in the US as the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The final result? The lifting of the ban is “good news, but it is still a very stressful and uncomfortable time to travel,” notes Robert Cottey, a London-based analyst at A2 Global Risk, an international security risk management company. “Travelers shouldn’t expect to travel before the pandemic, not at this time.”
What else should travelers who are traveling to the USA for the first time in some time expect, as well as insider tips for the safest and smoothest possible trip (tip: be sure to be patient).
More people in popular travel destinations
Hungry to grab a bite out of the Big Apple or spot A-listers in Los Angeles? Join the crowd: domestic tourism is recovering in popular U.S. destinations (remember the Hawaii governor advised tourists not to come in August?) Even before overseas travelers return to popular hotspots, that they missed.
Smaller metropolitan areas, sometimes known as âsecond tierâ cities, can offer an enticing alternative with a uniquely âAmericanâ flair and fewer crowds, says Mario Tricoci, founder and CEO of the Chicago-based Aparium Hotel Group.
“Now is the time to stay in Pittsburgh or Minneapolis or Kansas City and visit places you normally wouldn’t think of,” Tricoci told CNN. âThey have a different culture. You have this entrepreneurial foundation. And the culinary scenes in many of these cities are world class – they are just as good as the restaurants in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. “
Prepare your wallet
Industry insiders say increased demand from international travelers could drive hotel room and vacation rental prices higher this season as domestic vacation bookings are already robust in many US markets.
According to the latest data from rental management software company Guesty, vacation rental reservation volumes in November and December are a whopping 377% and 91% higher than pre-pandemic levels in 2019 compared to 2020. Meanwhile, the average rental price per night over Thanksgiving is up $ 415, up 58% from 2019, and the average Christmas price in 2021 is $ 599, a significant increase from the 2019 average of $ 332 per night.
All of this means that the long-awaited Thanksgiving family reunion in a posh vacation rental, as priceless as it is, could seriously drain your vacation budget.
Shortage of staff
Tourists are finally returning, but the U.S. hospitality and tourism industries are still struggling to fill millions of jobs for laid-off cashiers, receptionists, housekeepers, and other workers who have left the sector to work elsewhere. As a result, customers may experience longer lines at check-in and reduced amenities such as daily housekeeping.
Given this widespread labor shortage, Tricoci encouraged travelers accustomed to the high levels of customer service that the U.S. hospitality industry is traditionally known for to meet their expectations, an opinion that is repeated by many of its peers.
At the same time, he noted that the imminent arrival of foreign guests was a further incentive for the industry to adapt to the shortage of staff. “Ultimately, they travel, they spend and it is up to us to solve the problem,” he told CNN.
Rental cars have also become scarcer
Visitors longing for a quintessentially American road trip (or simply some extra protection from coronavirus exposure) may need to put the brakes on these plans as a persistent shortage of rental cars, experts warn, could be problematic again this winter, especially in warm winter months. Weather destinations like Florida and Hawaii.
Michael Meyer, President of Rate-Highway, which provides real-time rate management information for rental cars, advises anyone who needs a rental car to book as soon as possible – and pay in advance if possible, as the ongoing shortage is likely to increase Demand is continuing from international customers.
“Prepaid is not a 100 percent guarantee, but most operators will prioritize these rental types over rent with payment on arrival,” Meyer told CNN via email.
Navigate different (and confusing) health regulations and protocols
An essential resource for anyone planning to travel to the United States: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s district-level coronavirus data tracker, which provides helpful data on case numbers in specific districts, as well as local mandates and hospital admissions.
However, it is more difficult to understand the different state regulations on vaccination and mask requirements. And regulations are common at the city level too – places like New York City, San Francisco, and New Orleans have their own vaccination regulations for certain indoor spaces, including restaurants.
In state-regulated areas such as airports and on airplanes, a mask is required, as is the case in regional and local transport such as trains and subways. But actual enforcement at places like hotels is difficult to judge from a distance – this is where a travel advisor or agent can be invaluable.
“As a travel consultant, it’s my job to be able to assess the comfort of my customers and to know not only the destination, but also the accommodations themselves,” said Maria Diego, co-founder of the Miami-based luxury travel agency Diego Travel.
âWho took this time to renovate and innovate, or who made things worse? I am able to keep up to date with what the hotels are really enforcing because I have access to agencies that are constantly doing on-site inspections. It is one thing to post your guidelines on your website and another to practice them. “
Limited testing options
Many Europeans are used to fast, inexpensive (or free) Covid-19 tests with multiple test centers in large cities. And while testing capabilities are expanding in the US, including options for the home, it’s not quite as convenient, especially in rural areas, as some overseas visitors may be used to. In order to receive the necessary test results in good time before a return trip, forward planning is essential.
Additionally, overseas visitors must remember that all passengers, including children 2 years and older, entering the United States must also submit a negative test. This is a clear difference to many countries in Europe and elsewhere, which generally exclude children under the age of 12.
Also, don’t forget that with the advent of the Delta variant in early September, the EU removed the US from its safe list, with some countries banning non-essential travel from there. As a result, travelers returning to their home countries from the United States may face quarantines, additional testing, or other potential complications.
Flexibility is still very important
As celebrated as the news of the eased entry restrictions to the US for the travel industry was, the complexities involved underscore a point that industry insiders emphasize again and again: No matter where they travel to, travelers have to remain flexible (booking refundable airfares). , Accommodation and other expenses) and informed (follow the rules) as possible.
“Changes can happen in a snap,” Michelle Couch-Friedman, executive director of the nonprofit consumer protection organization Elliott Advocacy, told CNN. âEven if the US wants to allow vaccinated international travelers to enter the country from November at least immediately, there is no guarantee that this will actually take effect and for how long. If Covid has taught us anything, it is to be prepared for the unexpected. “
The CNN Wire
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Above: Travelers collect their luggage upon arrival at Miami International Airport on September 20, 2021. (Photo by Joe Raedle / Getty Images)