Cruise Industry, Advisors React to CDC Dropping COVID U.S. Entry Test

Effective 12:01 a.m. Sunday morning, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) removed the requirement for Americans returning back to the U.S. via an airline flight to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before boarding. The Biden Administration had been under pressure for weeks as travel and cruise industry executives lobbied hard for removal of the requirement. Many other countries recently have removed similar barriers to cross-border travel. 

"Since the start of the pandemic, our U.S. customers expressed that the testing requirement for re-entry is the number one thing holding them back from traveling internationally, and we’re thrilled that this barrier has been lifted,” said Ellen Bettridge, president and CEO, Uniworld.

Jackie Friedman, president, Nexion, told Travel Agent: "For many, the fear of getting stranded abroad prevented them from booking international travel. The CDC approval to remove the inbound testing requirement will be a game changer in the return of demand for international travel. So many of us in the industry have been pushing for this over the past several months and are celebrating the decision."

Travel Agent is sailing aboard Windstar Cruises' Star Pride in the Mediterranean. During a top-deck captain's gala reception, Captain Mark Symonds announced that the COVID-19 testing requirement for guests returning to the U.S. would be removed by the CDC. The reaction? Guests enthusiastically clapped and cheered, as they won't need to test prior to their return home later this week. 

CLIA Sounds Off 

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the cruise industry's trade association, issued a statement which said that CLIA, its member cruise lines and travel and tourism partners welcomed the development.  

"Of the 79 million international visitors who traveled to the United States in 2019, approximately 2.5 million came to embark on a cruise holiday and generated $4.5 billion in spending to the U.S. economy," the CLIA statement said. "The decision announced today is a strong step forward in easing restrictions so that the cruise industry can continue to contribute to the rebounding of the U.S. economy."

CLIA took its reaction one step further, though—addressing the issue of testing requirements still in effect for embarking cruise passengers: "As the CDC monitors the improving health landscape and works with airlines to support a smooth transition with the lifting of the pre-arrival testing requirement, we believe a review of pre-embarkation testing requirements for cruise travelers is also in order."

Cruise Lines React

Several cruise line executives provided Travel Agent with their perspective. "The CDC ending its requirement of a negative COVID-19 test for Americans to reenter the United States is an important step forward in the return to all global travel including cruising," said Gus Antorcha, president, Holland America Line.

He added that the change means that U.S travelers can pursue their love of cruising "without concern they could be denied entry to return home."

Holland America has returned to full operations this week with all 11 of its ships back in service. The CDC decision "removes a barrier to travel for some guests who understandably wanted to avoid the uncertainty of return testing," said Antorcha, stressing that his line continues to operate vaccinated cruises. 

Also welcoming the U.S. government's decision was Josh Leibowitz, president of Seabourn. In a statement, he said: "This change will give travelers more confidence to make plans to travel to worldwide destinations, and more importantly, our U.S. guests will have peace of mind knowing they will be able to return home without having to undergo testing requirements. In addition, our international guests will also have less stress when they book voyages departing from the U.S."

Seabourn said it will continue to operate "vaccinated voyages" to create a safe and healthy environment for guests, crew and the communities visited.    

In another reaction, John Padgett, president, Princess Cruises, said: “This is a tremendous development that allows our guests to travel more easily and without stress throughout Europe as well as experience our Alaskan cruises that conclude in a Canadian port."

Princess also said it's in the process of notifying guests of the development and updating communications. 

Trade Reaction

"The day has finally arrived," said Michelle Fee, founder and CEO, Cruise Planners, who emphatically said: "Can I just say 'Woo-Hoo?' It’s a day that the whole travel industry has been waiting for, it’s a huge step forward." 

Fee said the last obstacle has been removed and "our travelers will be more at ease, and not worried about being quarantined abroad."

From a front-line seller's perspective, "my clients cruising this summer are thrilled -- they know they can get home," said Candie Steinman, franchise owner and travel advisor, Dream Vacations, Fort Myers, FL. She added that she's cruising from Vancouver next month and "this is fantastic."

Internova Travel Group represents more than 70,000 travel advisors in various divisions worldwide, most in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom; the trade group had strongly lobbied for removal of the CDC testing requirement.

"We welcome the news that the Biden administration is lifting the requirement that travelers test negative for COVID-19 before entering the United States," said J.D. O’Hara, Internova's CEO. "This move comes in the wake of a strong, concerted lobbying effort by Internova Travel Group, as well as our industry partners."

Noting that travel and tourism are an important part of the global economy, he continued: "We are in the midst of a robust season for travel as our clients plan long-delayed trips, and I am confident that lifting the testing requirement will not only accelerate the recovery of travel but also lead to more growth for our industry."

O'Hara's view?: "I’m even more excited about the future of travel."

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