As COVID Restriction Relax, U.S. Looks Towards Tourism Sector

In light of relaxed COVID-19 restrictions, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced the formation of a new program designed to boost international tourism efforts.

The international tourism market has decreased sharply due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic, the tourism industry provided 9.5 million jobs for U.S. citizens, creating $1.9 trillion in output. Approximately 79.4 million international visitors spent $239.4 billion in the U.S. in 2019. However, in 2020, just 19.2 million tourists spent a meager $81 billion—a far cry from the previous year. The following year, tourism rates rose slightly to 22.1 million, or just over one-fourth of 2019 levels.

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As a response to this sharp fall in tourism rates, the “National Travel and Tourism Strategy” from the Department of Commerce sets a goal to bring in 90 million international visitors who will spend an estimated $279 billion annually by 2027. In a draft of this strategy document acquired by Reuters, the Commerce Department states that its goals are to streamline the entry process into the country and make it easier for non-citizens to enter and leave the country. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told Reuters that the process is currently very paper-based. They want to create a more tech-forward process with passport scanning machines, including facial recognition software.

The U.S. still requires that foreign nationals be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to enter the country, a policy which U.S. airlines have come out against, arguing that nearly all the countries they serve are not requiring testing. On June 12, the requirement for travelers to test negative for COVID one day before entering the U.S. was dropped.

The Commerce Department also encourages tourists to visit underrepresented destinations within the U.S. and more “resilient, sustainable, and equitable” tourism practices. Ideally, this will drive tourists inland from more popular coastal destinations such as New York or California. Raimondo also added that the Commerce Department is looking to make the tourism industry more impervious to natural disasters or public health threats in the future while also reducing its carbon footprint.