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Travel industry calls on White House to finish Covid-19 testing requirement for overseas visitors

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Travel and hospitality CEOs are stepping up pressure on the Biden administration to scrap a requirement that anyone flying into the U.S. present a a negative Covid-19 test before departure, saying the rule is discouraging visitors and hurting the country’s tourism industry.

The push comes after the UK, Italy, Greece and others have lifted similar requirements as pandemic restrictions ease world wide.

Within the U.S., health officials still require travelers flying into the country to offer proof of a negative Covid-19 test, no matter their vaccination status or citizenship. People can even present proof that they recovered from Covid. Other countries including South Korea and Japan also require travelers to present a negative Covid test.

“Requiring pre-departure testing creates uncertainty for travelers, yet another hurdle which will make them select a destination with less friction,” Marriott CEO Tony Capuano said in a press release to CNBC. “The U.S. will miss out if we do not eliminate those unnecessary barriers.”

Nearly 40 U.S. mayors including from San Francisco and Miami also sent a letter this week to Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House Covid-19 coordinator, urging him to lift the requirement. The letter said American cities are still struggling to regain international visitors.

Travel industry executives also met with Jha last week, but say they didn’t get a timeline for when the requirement might end.

“They’re unable to cite when predeparture testing shall be lifted,” Tori Barnes, president of the U.S. Travel Association, told CNBC after the meeting.

The White House didn’t reply to a request for comment.

“Predeparture testing is holding international travelers back from bookings a visit to the U.S.,” said Jon Bortz, CEO of Pebblebrook Hotel Trust, which owns 54 hotels across the country.

Glenn Fogel, CEO of the world’s largest online travel operator, Booking Holdings, said the test requirement is pushing people to go to other countries. In other cases, he noted people just find ways across the requirement.

“We also see instances of individuals simply avoiding the restriction by flying into Canada or Mexico and driving across the border,” Fogel said in a press release.

In a note to investors Wednesday, Morgan Stanley analyst Jamie Rollo wrote that the testing requirement is becoming especially concerning for cruise travelers, who worry about being stuck on a ship testing positive.

Keith Barr, CEO of InterContinental Hotels Group, expressed frustration with the country’s testing requirement on CNBC’s “Closing Bell” Tuesday.

“It’s out of step with the remaining of the world,” he said.

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