By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF REPORTER
(The Center Square) — The U.S. border reopened to fully vaccinated travelers from 33 countries Monday, and cities in the Golden State are hopeful for an economic boost after a tough year and a half for the tourism industry.
Pandemic-induced travel restrictions barred foreign travelers from India, China and much of Europe from traveling to the U.S. for 19 months. During this same time, travel from Canada and Mexico was restricted to only workers whose jobs were considered essential, starting in March 2020.
Fully vaccinated travelers were welcomed into the U.S. once again Monday, including at the land borders between Canada and Mexico. Travel officials across the state and nation eyed Monday’s international travel resumption as a key step toward recovery.
“After nearly two years of restrictions, Monday begins in earnest the return of international travel, when long-separated families and friends can safely reunite, travelers can explore this amazing country and the U.S. is able to reconnect with the global community,” U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow said in a statement. “It is a monumental day for travelers, for the communities and businesses that rely on international visitation and for the U.S. economy overall.”
Multiple cities in California are anxiously awaiting the return of travelers after a long period of restrictions.
In the early morning hours Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported the line of cars waiting to enter San Diego stretched to Tijuana, while many more travelers entered the U.S. via airports across the nation. For travel officials in San Diego, the influx is welcome as the city expects that years of economic recovery remain.
“The reopening of the border is welcome news and will help San Diego’s continued efforts to rebuild its tourism industry,” Jennifer Davies, the director of external affairs and cultural tourism for the San Diego Tourism Authority, told The Center Square. “While San Diego was one of the top performing destinations in the country in terms of hotel rates and occupancy, we expect our tourism economy won’t fully recover until 2024. The sooner international travel ramps back up, the quicker and more robust our local tourism industry will be able to rebound.”
San Diego tourism lost 20 years of economic gains in the areas of employment, economic impact and visitor spending during 2020, according to Ms. Davies. Signs of a slow recovery appeared earlier this year, with tourism up more than 50% between January and July.
Day visitation from Mexico made up almost one-fourth of all day visitation to the city before the pandemic and has been down an average of 63% each month. According to data from the tourism authority, day-trippers from Mexico have had an $85 million regional impact as of July; a low total compared with the $428 million in regional impact reported in 2019.
Ms. Davies said the opening of the Mexico border will play a “critical part” in the recovery of the local tourism economy.
Travel officials in other parts of the state were hopeful the return of international travel would bring a boost after a year and a half of pandemic-related closures.
Officials in San Francisco called the return of international travel “vital” to the city’s recovery. The city ranks as one of the top destinations for international visitors, welcoming a record 2.9 million travelers in 2019.
With the resumption of international travel, officials are hoping to see the robust return of travel from Europe. Before the pandemic began, Britain and Germany were among the top five international markets for visitor volume, and France, Britain and Italy were three of the fastest-growing markets, according to a news release from the San Francisco Travel Association.
“With the reopening of the U.S border and the increase in transatlantic flights to SFO, we expect to see European and U.K. tourist arrivals rebounding,” Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of San Francisco Travel Association, said in a statement.
Madison Hirneisen covers California for The Center Square.