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Travel and the New Administration: What Do We Know?

1 Feb, 2021

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Remember back when the biggest headaches in putting on travel sports events were the TSA lines? Fun times.

As our sports economy gropes its way back to normal, there are changes afoot, many of which are the product of a new presidential administration. And while it may be some time until all travel events are back up and running, it doesn’t hurt to begin laying the groundwork.

Problem is, however, the ground itself has changed. And while yes, a vaccine is available, it will be some time until everyone is able to receive it and an immunity is built up. In the meantime, here is a recap of some of the changes that will be in effect – at least for now.

Mask Mandate: One of the buzziest points of the new administration, for travelers, has been President Joe Biden’s mask mandate. The new president long promised a mask mandate on flights, trains and buses, and this has now come to pass. (The Trump administration did not establish a mandate, leaving carriers to make their own). For almost a year, the CDC has promulgated the wearing of masks on everything from school buses to planes, so a new mandate would fall in line with these precautions. 

Veteran travel analyst Henry Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research told USA TODAY reporters that mask wearing will go from an airline policy to a government policy, with muscle behind it. "It is a federal policy and you have two choices: comply or don’t fly,'' he said.

Here are some additional resources from our friends at The Points Guy:

Quarantine Requirements: Presently, these are still left up to individual states (and in some places, counties); time will tell whether any nationwide minimums will be established. Already, we have seen the impact of quarantine restrictions upon events in specific states and we’ve also noted the trend of teams trying to get around them.

Backing the Travel Industry: According to TravelPulse, the Biden administration is supportive of the travel industry and sympathetic to its losses over the past year; the following four paragraphs come directly from a recent blog:

“Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion stimulus package has received praise from the travel industry. It is possibly the most immediate way the travel industry will feel the effects of the new administration.

The package calls for $20 billion for a national vaccination program and $15 billion for a new grant program for small business owners separate from the existing Paycheck Protection Program. There is also $35 billion for investment in some state, local, tribal and non-profit financing programs that provide low-interest loans as well as venture capital for entrepreneurs.

“We welcome and wholeheartedly support the provisions of President-elect Biden’s COVID-19 relief proposal that will help spur the travel industry’s recovery and provide support to ASTA members, employees and independent contractors,” said Eben Peck, executive vice president advocacy for the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA). “That said, this is just the beginning of the process and we are working with allies in Congress to build on these proposals and provide additional support for our members, including targeted funding for travel businesses and new long-term loan programs for hard-hit businesses along the lines of last year’s RESTART Act.”

Accelerating the distribution of vaccines is the key to getting travel back to normal, and we applaud President-elect Biden’s emphasis on a robust federal leadership role to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible," said U.S. Travel president and CEO Roger Dow in a statement.

Travel Tax Credit: SDM first covered this issue back in 2020 but it continues to resurface. It was first mentioned back in June and circulated Congress and the White House as the “Explore America” Tax Credit, a proposal that would give a $4,000 tax break to families for vacation expenses at hotels, theme parks and other tourism businesses through the end of 2021 – something that would act as an incentive for sports tourism. The travel industry has championed the proposal, but there has been little movement on the issue since the original negotiations for a second stimulus package stalled in Congress.

TravelPulse notes that the issue was brought to the floor last fall at the 42nd annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference, where U.S. Travel’s Dow emphasized its potential impact.

"We've proposed a tax credit for travel, and we want to show people that it's addictive because when people travel, they spend money and they create jobs," said Dow. "We think it's one of the easiest ways to get travel moving again."

Will the Greenway Stimulus Become Reality? Back in the fall, the East Coast Greenway Alliance proposed its Greenway Stimulus, designed to help provide employment by creating jobs to work on expanding infrastructure for walking and cycling trails. A new administration, firmly dedicated to protecting the environment, could give this concept a fighting chance this year. 

What About Travel to Cuba? The Obama administration had a relaxed approach to travel to Cuba, where sports tourism had been heating up; however, Trump cracked down. ASTA is of the opinion that ultimately, the negative rules (or at least some of them) will be eased.

"Biden said that he would go back to the thinking of the Obama administration, and we're hoping he's going to remember that," Peggy Goldman, owner of InsightCuba, told Travel Weekly.

What are the Requirements Regarding Immunization and Health Checks for those Traveling Within the U.S. or Prior to Taking international Flights? Domestic airlines and destinations have varying travel restrictions in place, including testing requirements, stay-at-home orders, and quarantine requirements upon arrival. (One article covering those is available here – although it is essential to check with the CDC as well as with specific destinations, as rulings are subject to change). Additionally, some airlines have started contact tracing on all domestic and international flights.

Make Sure All Documentation is Up to Date, No Matter Who is in the White House: Ah, the good old passport. You still need it, so even if you aren't embarking on international trips at the moment, it’s a good time to renew. Here is the information you need to know right now. Something else to know right now: While waiting until the last minute has never been a good strategy, it’s an even worse idea in the COVID era, when many services are backed up, short-staffed and delayed.

The REAL ID Act Goes into Effect on October 1 of this Year: U.S. athletes with plans to travel (as well as the event owners and others) should ascertain the correct documentation is in place. Again, putting in the time now can prevent delays. The Department of Homeland Security has a page of Frequently Asked Questions for those who need to learn more.

Global Entry: No, you don’t NEED a Global Entry card to travel internationally (or domestically, for that matter); however, it can expedite your passage through the airport. It can also serve as another form of I.D., should you need it. Note: Global Entry differs from TSA PreCheck and other Trusted Traveler programs; learn more here.

Those who are planning events (or even imagining events) that are to be held in other countries, or that are going to host international athletes, already know that it is far more complicated than it ever was. Right now is a good time to take a broad overview of what will need to be done – although it is a bit too soon to make actual plans. Here are some items that will need to be taken into consideration.

New Travel Restrictions: According to The Points Guy, the former administration announced that it planned to lift its ban on travel from the EU, United Kingdom and Brazil. However, the Biden administration quickly made clear that move would be reversed once the incoming president was inaugurated.

“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” incoming Biden Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a tweet. “On the advice of our medical team, the [administration] does not intend to lift these restrictions on Jan. 26. In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

TPG also notes: “Since March 2020, the Trump administration had banned entry to the United States for non-nationals who have been in the U.K., Ireland, 26 Schengen Area countries, China, Iran and Brazil in the last 14 days. There were reports in November 2020 that the White House was considering lifting that ban on travel from Europe, however, U.K. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said last week that President Trump had blocked those plans.

As of Jan. 26, the U.S. will require all travelers — including U.S. citizens — coming from abroad to have a negative COVID-19 test. The test must be taken no more than three days prior to scheduled departure. That policy is expected to remain in place under the Biden administration.”

Additional Travel Changes: In the works is a potential repeal of the so-called “Muslim travel ban,” which forbade visitors from several Muslim-majority nations. In addition, Biden is expected to ask the State Department to restart the visa process for those countries immediately and to fix those cases with applicants who were denied visas or had applications frozen.

Are International Athletes Allowed into the U.S.? It’s complicated. First, you have the USA’s dubious distinction as the COVID capital. The Points Guy quotes the CDC, noting, “the United States remains the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak. The U.S. has more cases than any country in the world.” So it may be that many athletes won’t want to come here unless their safety can be assured by event owners.

The U.S. State Department lifted its “Level 4,” warning — the department’s highest warning — against any international travel, but it is still not recommended – at least not at the present.

However, at least one international event was held: The Challenge Daytona Powered by the Y Triathlon Festival. That event had an international contingent of pro athletes that did actually quarantine upon arrival and made it a point to follow strict health protocols in order to participate. (Professional athletes were deemed “essential personnel,” which is why they were allowed to travel in and compete; there is no word as to whether this is the case across other countries, however).

The Ability to Travel Outside the U.S. is Still in Flux

International Flights: As expected, entrance policies to non-residents vary from country to country. There is a good synopsis here; however, it is essential, when planning an event in an international destination, to check with officials in that area for the most up-to-date regulations.

The CDC offers information on flying internationally at this link. This includes information on testing, quarantines, social distancing, mask wearing and other precautions to be taken before and during air travel. Additionally, it is essential to know the rules for individual destinations; some destinations require testing before travel and/or after arrival.

The CDC notes that information about testing requirements for destinations outside the U.S. may be available from the Office of Foreign Affairs or Ministry of Health, or the US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Country Information webpage.

Do Your Planning Now – But Be Flexible: If you’d like to move forward with laying the groundwork for an international event, it is not illegal; however, it is inadvisable at this time to make hard and fast date-specific plans while so much is still subject to change.

Those who want to move forward with making preliminary plans for events in other nations should know it is essential to find dependable event production partners in the country in which you are planning your event. When travel restrictions ease, your event partner will be there to help you plan. (A case study of planning events internationally, made several years prior to COVID, can be found here. The lessons are no less relevant, despite the timeline).

Sports Connections: President Biden is a diehard baseball fan, even having been a Little League coach when his eldest son, Beau, was playing. Beau passed away at the age of 46 in 2015.

In 2009, during Biden's enshrinement ceremony for the Little League Museum Hall of Excellence, the-then US Vice President jokingly remarked: "If you had told me when I was an eight-year-old, playing in my first Little League, that I had a choice of pitching in the World Series and win it or be Vice President, I would have pitched." Having a president who understands youth sports may be an incredibly useful lever, should the sports travel industry wish to appeal to it.

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