Tourism

Will Los Angeles see a rise in tourism when the COVID testing rule expires?

Los Angeles travel industry leaders are hoping the Biden administration’s plan to end COVID-19 testing requirements for international travelers will boost visits among high-spending foreign holidaymakers.

The mandate that international air passengers in the US test negative within a day of boarding a flight expires Sunday at 00:01 ET, a senior administration official said. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity on Friday to preview the official announcement, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had determined the rule was no longer needed but could reinstate it if a new worrying variant emerged.

The policy change is big news for Los Angeles, which is one of the top three US destinations for international travelers who typically stay longer and spend more than local visitors. Before the pandemic, China’s growing middle class helped boost the number of Chinese tourists in Los Angeles, who spent an average of about $6,900 per visit, according to US Travel Assn., the country’s travel industry trade group.

“Our city of angels is ready to roll out the red carpet for travelers from all over the world,” Adam Burke, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board, said in response to the news.

In 2019, Los Angeles County received 7.4 million foreign and 42.6 million local visitors, according to the board of directors. That year, foreign travelers spent $11.6 billion, about 56% of all tourism spending, although they made up only about 14% of all visitors. In 2020, the number of visitors dropped to 27.7 million and tourism spending fell to $10 billion. Tourism experts estimate that about 40 million people visited the county in 2021.

The Biden administration introduced the testing requirement last year when it moved away from restrictions barring non-essential travel from dozens of countries — most of Europe, China, Brazil, South Africa, India and Iran. This was due to the requirement that adult non-immigrant foreigners traveling to the United States be fully vaccinated, with a few exceptions.

The original mandate allowed those who were fully vaccinated to present a negative test result within three days of travel, while unvaccinated individuals had to present a test taken within one day of travel. In November, as the highly transmissible Omicron variant rolled around the world, the Biden administration tightened rules and required all travelers, regardless of vaccination status, to be tested within a day of traveling to the US.

Airlines and travel groups have been pushing the administration to lift the testing requirement for months, saying it discourages people from booking international travel. Many other countries have raised their testing requirements for fully vaccinated and boosted travelers in a bid to increase tourist numbers.

The move, however, comes amid rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Los Angeles…

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