Here’s what you can expect when the United States opens its borders to vaccinated foreign travelers

(CNN) — The announcement that vaccinated foreign nationals will be allowed to travel to the United States in November after an 18-month ban was good news for families struggling with cross-border separations, airlines keen to restart long-haul connections , eager tourists and industry insiders.

Travel planning is also underway: according to data recently released by the travel booking platform Hopper, user searches for all international flights to the United States increased by 27% on September 20, the date of the announcement. announcement, compared to the previous day, while searches for flights from Europe to the United States increased by 68%.

But as excited as travelers to the United States are to meet loved ones, attend a business conference, or take selfies in front of iconic landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, they should also be prepared for a very different travel experience. these days and is constantly changing.

First, there are new entry restrictions.

All foreign citizens must show proof of vaccination and test negative within three days of travel (unvaccinated U.S. citizens, meanwhile, will need to undergo more rigorous testing), as well as comply with enhanced tracking measures of the contract.

On the ground, safety and health regulations that vary wildly from coast to coast (states strongly opposed to masks like Florida versus state mask-wearing mandates and vaccination requirements for meals indoors and other New York activities, for example) that are almost guaranteed to cause confusion.

A mosaic of security measures

“As Europeans, when you think of the United States, you think of a great country,” said Catherine Chaulet, a Boston-based French-American who is president and CEO of Global DMC Partners, a network of companies management of independent destinations.

“And the reality is there are a lot of different states with a lot of different personalities, and that’s going to show up in health and sanitation protocols more than ever.”

To further complicate the picture, critical entry guidelines have yet to be announced by US government and health officials on how vaccination status will be assessed and verified. For example, digital certificates, also known as vaccine passports, which are popular in many countries around the world, are not yet established in the United States.

Incoming travelers must be “fully immunized,” which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says includes those who have received vaccines approved for use in the United States, as well as those listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization that has not yet received such approval in the United States, such as the AstraZeneca vaccine.

While the lifting of the ban is “good news, it’s still a very stressful and uncomfortable time to travel,” says Robert Cottey, London-based analyst at A2 Global Risk, an international security risk management firm. . “Travelers shouldn’t anticipate anything resembling pre-pandemic travel, not at this point.”

Here’s what first-time travelers to the United States in a long time should expect, plus insider tips for the safest, smoothest trip possible (hint: make sure to have more patience).

More people in popular destinations

Fancy a bite of the Big Apple or celebrities in Los Angeles? Join the Crowd: Domestic tourism in popular US destinations is already picking up (remember Hawaii’s Governor advising tourists to stop coming back in August?), even before foreign travelers only return to favorite places that have been lost.

Smaller metropolitan destinations, sometimes called “second-tier” cities, can offer an attractive alternative with a unique, less crowded “American” flavor, says Mario Tricoci, founder and CEO of Chicago-based hotel group Aparium.

“Now is the time to stay in Pittsburgh or Minneapolis or Kansas City and go somewhere you wouldn’t normally think of,” Tricoci told CNN. “They have a different culture. They have this entrepreneurial base. And the food scenes in a lot of these cities are world class, they’re as good as the restaurants in New York and Chicago and San Francisco.”

prepare your portfolio

Industry insiders say increased demand from international travelers could drive up prices for hotel rooms and vacation rentals this season, when domestic vacation bookings are already strong in many U.S. markets.

According to the latest data from rental management software company Guesty, vacation rental booking volume in November and December is 377% higher than in 2020 and 91% higher than pre-pandemic levels in 2019 Meanwhile, the rental rate per night on Thanksgiving Day is $415, a 58% increase from 2019, and average Christmas rates in 2021 are $599, which is a huge increase from compared to its average of US$332/night in 2019.

All of which means that long-awaited Thanksgiving family reunion in a luxurious vacation rental, valuable as it is, could seriously strain your vacation budget.

Shortage of staff

Tourists are finally returning, but the US hospitality and tourism industry is still struggling to fill the millions of jobs for cashiers, receptionists, housekeepers and other employees who left the industry to work elsewhere. As a result, guests may notice longer lines and reduced amenities like daily housekeeping.

In light of this widespread labor shortage, Tricoci encouraged travelers accustomed to the high level of customer service for which the American hospitality industry is traditionally known to manage their expectations, a sentiment shared by many of their peers.

At the same time, he noted that the imminent arrival of foreign guests is another incentive for the industry to adapt to staff shortages. “At the end of the day, they’re traveling, spending money, and it’s up to us to solve the problem,” he told CNN.

It can be difficult to find rental cars for visitors to Florida and other popular destinations. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Rental cars are also rare

Visitors longing for the quintessential American road trip (or just an extra layer of protection from coronavirus exposure) may have to put those plans on hold, due to a car shortage that experts say could be problematic again this winter, especially in hot weather destinations like Florida and Hawaii.

Michael Meyer, president of Rate-Highway, which provides real-time rate management information for car rentals, advises anyone in need of a rental car to book as soon as possible and, if possible, to pay in advance, noting that ongoing supply shortages are likely. Continue. increasing demand from international customers.

“Prepay is not a 100% guarantee, but most carriers will prioritize these types of rentals over pay-on-arrival rentals,” Meyer told CNN via email.

Navigating different (and confusing) health rules and protocols

A key resource for anyone planning to travel to the United States: the CDC’s county-level coronavirus data tracker, which provides useful data on the number of cases in specific counties, as well as local mandates and hospitalizations.

More difficult to understand, however, are the different national regulations regarding vaccination and mask requirements. And mandates are also common at the city level: Places like New York, San Francisco and New Orleans have their own vaccination requirements for certain indoor spaces, including restaurants.

Restaurants in New Orleans and other US cities require proof of vaccination. Mario Tama/Getty Images

In federally regulated spaces like airports and airplanes, masks are mandatory, as well as on regional and local transportation like trains and subways. But the actual application in places like hotels is difficult to gauge from afar, which is where a travel advisor or agent can be invaluable.

“As a travel consultant, my job is to be able to assess my client’s comfort level and learn not just the destination, but the properties themselves,” said Maria Diego, co-founder of travel agency luxury Diego Travel, based in Miami. .

“Who has taken advantage of this downtime to renew and innovate or who has let things deteriorate? I can keep up to date with what hotels are really applying because I have access to agencies that constantly inspect sites First, it’s one thing for them to put their policies on their website and another thing to put them into practice”.

Limited options for getting tested for covid-19

Many Europeans are used to quick and cheap (or free) covid-19 tests, with several test centers in major cities. And while testing capacity is growing in the United States, including at-home options, it’s not as convenient, especially in rural areas, as some overseas visitors may be used to. Advance planning is imperative to obtain the necessary test results in a timely manner before a return trip.

Additionally, foreign visitors should remember that all passengers, including children aged two and over, entering the United States will also be required to present a negative test. This is a marked difference from many countries in Europe and elsewhere, which generally exempt children under 12.

Also keep in mind that with the rise of the delta variant, the EU removed the US from its list of safe countries in early September, with some countries banning non-essential travel from there. Therefore, travelers returning to their home country from the United States may be subject to quarantines, additional testing, or other potential complications.

Flexibility is key

As celebrated as news of the easing of U.S. entry restrictions has been for the travel industry, its related complexities underscore a point industry insiders continue to stress: no matter where they lead, travelers should remain as flexible as possible (by booking airfare, accommodation and other reimbursable costs) and informed (by following the rules).

“Change can happen in the blink of an eye,” Michelle Couch-Friedman, executive director of consumer nonprofit Elliott Advocacy, told CNN. “While the United States intends, at least now, to allow vaccinated international travelers beginning in November, there is no guarantee that this will actually happen or for how long. If Covid has taught us anything , is to be prepared for the unexpected.”

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