Joseph Robinette Biden Jr has taken office as President of the United States and, along comes the shift of political power in the country from Republicans to Democrats in both Congress and the White House.
During his campaign for president and after winning the 3 November 2020 election, Biden had indicated that he intends to do things differently than his predecessor.
What will this mean for the travel industry? Right at the get-go, there will be changes, many of which have been praised by travel industry leaders. A total of 17 executive orders, memorandums and proclamations have been signed, just hours after inauguration.
New Stimulus Package
Biden’s proposed US$1.9 trillion stimulus package has received praise from the American travel industry. It is possibly the most immediate way the travel industry will feel the effects of the new administration.
The package calls for US$20 billion for a national vaccination programme and US$15 billion for a new grant programme for small business owners separate from the existing Paycheck Protection Program. There is also US$35 billion for investment in some state, local, tribal and non-profit financing programmes 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 programmes 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 US Travel president and CEO Roger Dow in a statement.
Earlier, President Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain revealed a slate of executive orders for the new President's first day in office. Biden has signed an order that requires masks on federal property and has indicated that he will be signing a new order soon to extend mandatory masking for interstate travel — "like on trains, planes and buses," a move many members of the travel industry have praised.
Masks will also be mandated for travel into the United States. Travellers arriving from outside the country will need to show a negative Covid-19 test before departure and then self-quarantine upon arrival.
Biden also used his inaugural address to start a '100 days masking challenge' to urge Americans to slow the spread of Covid-19 and help bring the pandemic under control. As well, a coronavirus response coordinator has been appointed to oversee the White House's efforts in distributing medical supplies and vaccines.
Covid-19 Travel Restrictions
The Trump administration announced a lifting of travel restrictions from the UK, the EU and Brazil. However, President Biden plans to block this move.
The travel restrictions were set to be lifted on 26 January 2021, six days after Biden takes office as President and after President Trump has left Washington.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the administration will follow medical advice.
“On the advice of our medical team, the administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26,” Psaki posted on Twitter. “In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of Covid-19.”
Muslim Travel Ban
Another executive order that came on Biden’s first day in office is the reversal of an executive order by President Trump that banned travellers from seven Muslim-majority nations from coming to the US. The order was met with widespread protest early on in the Trump administration.
The ban included significant restrictions on travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen when it was originally signed. Iraq and Sudan were later removed, and Chad, North Korea and Venezuela were added. The administration then put restrictions on travellers from Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria and Tanzania and re-added Sudan.
Klain had included the reversing of the ban in the list of executive orders Biden was to sign on his first day in office.
Travel advisors are still hoping that the Biden administration would ease Cuba travel rules.
President Barack Obama made travel to Cuba a lot easier during his administration, rules that were largely revoked by the Trump administration. Now with the Biden administration, travel advisors are hoping that these restrictions, like others, will also be overturned.
ASTA believes that at least some of the current restrictions will be eliminated. "Whether that exactly matches the Obama administration's policy or something in between remains to be seen, as does the timing of such changes with everything else that's going to be on the incoming administration's plate come January," Peck said.
"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.
This is an abbreviated version of the article first posted on TravelPulse.