Statewide hotel group sees silver lining in easing restrictions on foreign travelers coming to the United States


Chicago is not a magnet for foreign tourists like, say, New York or San Francisco.

Historically, only around 5% of visitors here have come from overseas. But Michael Jacobson was nonetheless delighted this week with the announcement that the Biden administration is considering easing coronavirus-related travel restrictions for foreign visitors to the United States.

“It’s been a long time coming; it’s something that as an industry we’ve been fighting for months now, â€said Jacobson, president and CEO of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association, which represents approximately 500 properties across the country. State, of which about 150 are in Chicago.

Starting in November, the administration will require all foreign travelers to the United States to have proof of vaccination before boarding, as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of flight. . The new policy replaces a patchwork of travel restrictions first instituted by President Donald Trump last year and tightened by Biden earlier this year that restrict travel by non-citizens who have stayed in the previous 14 days at the UK, EU, China and India. , Iran, Republic of Ireland, Brazil and South Africa.

The pandemic has hit the hospitality industry exceptionally hard, Jacobson said, with business travel nearly drying up, hence the importance of tourism.

“In the history of our industry, no one has ever experienced what we have experienced in terms of losses – and continued losses,†he said. “It feels like things are getting back to normal. You saw a strong summer in Chicago which was great to see. But we are still a long way from where we were before the pandemic. “

Michael Jacobson, President and CEO of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association

The pre-COVID-19 occupancy rate for the city’s central business district was around 85% for August 2019, according to data tracking company STR. It fell to 21.4% in 2020 and to 53.3% for the same month this year. August and July are generally the busiest months of the year, Jacobson said.

Statewide, the hospitality industry has also cut about 20,000 jobs, or about a third of all employees, Jacobson said.

“Many of them have come back; many of them haven’t, â€Jacobson said, echoing a familiar concern among those in the post-containment services industry.

Jacobson was speaking at a trade show in Las Vegas to promote tourism to the United States. Employee issues aside, European tour operators he encountered there were giddy on Monday about being able to finally bring customers back to the United States, Jacobson said.

Although foreign visitors to the city are far less numerous than nationals, they generally spend more money when they are here, Jacobson said.

“If you fly to visit the United States, you stay here longer than two or three days,†he said. “They’re the ones who book the best hotel rooms, the best cars, book very exclusive experiences that just bring more revenue for the tourism industry, but also a lot more tax revenue for the city.”

But given lingering concerns about travel with a pandemic still raging in the United States, how will this week’s announcement help?

“It will make a big difference. There are a lot of pent-up demands. People are understandably concerned about COVID, as they should be, and make sure they are taking the right precautions to be safe when getting on a plane. and come here, “Jacobson said.” There are people who haven’t seen their family for 18 months, there are people who haven’t met their grandchildren.

Contribute: AP

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