The event industry has been abuzz with the latest news: On Nov. 8th, the U.S. is beginning to ease its travel restrictions on international visitors. However, all non-U.S. citizens entering the country will be required to show proof that they’ve been fully vaccinated. This is a big change from the previous policy, which requires only a negative COVID-19 test for visitors from countries that have never been banned from U.S. travel due to the pandemic.
All feelings about this newly implemented rule aside, one of the people’s most immediate concerns might be whether they are considered fully vaccinated. On this front, most people who have been gone through the vaccination process may breathe a sigh of relief- both FDA-approved vaccines and the WHO’s Emergency Use Listing Vaccines will be accepted. Those who have received a mixed-dose vaccination from the approved brands will also be allowed to enter the U.S. The operative word here is “fully”. So if the vaccination brand received requires two doses, visitors must have had both doses and waited the standard period of time for them to become effective. (That’s just a few days after the last dose for all currently approved brands).
Recently, the Sinopharm vaccine has been approved for emergency use. If you’re thinking this has nothing to do with the U.S. think again: According to the WHO’s Assistant-Director General for Access to Health Products, the approval of the new Sinopharm vaccine may rapidly accelerate vaccine access for countries seeking to protect at-risk populations. The extension of international travel to a wider range of countries directly impacts the U.S. economy.
Impact on the U.S. Economy
The effects on the economy will be massive, but may not be immediate. It doesn’t bear repeating that the economy was devastated by the pandemic. But the event, travel, and hospitality industries have been slowest to recover for obvious reasons. Global travel restrictions continue to contribute to the loss of millions for these industries, so easing it will be a positive development. However, it’s not uncomplicated, and results will vary across industries.
According to Kaaren Hamilton, vice president of global sales at hotel chain Sonesta, lifting the border with Canada and Mexico will immediately impact travel and entertainment. Although she notes that leisure travel has essentially sustained the industry over the last several months, Hamilton points out the significance of how and why people book hotels. International business travelers often book stays through wholesale and tour operators, which are integral to hospitality brands.
Businesses that rely on trade shows and other international events to survive have been lobbying to get this travel ban lifted for months. INDA, a brand based in North Carolina, serves the North American nonwovens industry. Although it has managed to host several events virtually since the pandemic began, it held its first in-person event in July 2021- the annual World of Wipes convention in Atlanta, Georgia. The event was a huge success, amassing the highest in-person attendance the conference has had in six years. However, it didn’t attract many international travelers, which deeply impacted business.
It’s worth noting that Asian travelers could potentially face challenges obtaining travel visas due to staffing shortages in state department offices. For the IFAI (Industrial Fabrics Association International), a significant amount of investor revenue comes from China. Steve Schiffman, CEO of the IFAI, says that this revenue has all but dissipated completely due to the travel ban. While recognizing that it was necessary, he expresses concern about the expected barriers to travel from China.
Okay, But What About Events?
Events might not feel the positive impact as immediately as travel and hospitality businesses. The simplest reason for this is that many companies- especially small businesses- have depleted resources after a long period of less activity. Successful events take months of planning and marketing, and many businesses have pooled their resources into adapting to a virtual format. However, hybrid events are increasingly popular; they often serve to build a bridge between virtual and in-person events, thereby also easing the transition for companies and attendees.
The first major event to take place following the policy change: IMEX Las Vegas, which is scheduled from Nov. 9th to Nov. 11th. According to social media reports, the event is anticipating a massive turnout as people. This is happy news, but the workload and responsibility that goes along with international events is massive. Obviously, large events require sophisticated equipment, which may or may not need to be sourced outside of local parameters. Flying in equipment comes with its own set of responsibilities, such as filling out documentation and navigating any potential supply chain issues.
Despite vaccination requirements for travel, COVID-safety at events is as important as ever. Event creators are constantly being told to “manage expectations”, which can sound like a nebulous term. However, with the excitement of resuming international travel and in-person events, it can be easy for people to lose sight of safety concerns. That’s why it’s imperative that event creators make safety protocols and expectations clear to attendees in the weeks prior to the event. That means not just including such information in an email, but opening up the lines of communication. Social media conversations are one powerful way to make attendees feel safe and make your expectations clear before the event takes place.
Also, consider the economic state of the location where you are hosting your event. Obviously, many businesses have either temporarily or permanently shut down during the pandemic. It’s helpful to vet the area for viable hotels and smooth transportation systems. Are there affordable, quality hotels/motels nearby? Are there multiple local modes of transportation from these locations? Is there a variety of places to eat, shop, and purchase convenient items on the go? Of course, these are all things to take into consideration under any circumstances. But following a lockdown, they take on new importance.
It’s worth noting that varying COVID-19 policies apply to different businesses. It’s safe to say that, in many areas, travelers are well-advised to have a mask on hand. While some locations don’t require masks for entry, especially to vaccinated folks, many still adhere to a uniform rule of “No mask, no entry”. It gets difficult to prove vaccination at every turn, and many businesses don’t want to exclude unvaccinated people.
Advice for International Travelers
For many, the ban lift means more opportunities for sponsorship, lead generation, professional development, and more. Indeed, it’s an exciting (albeit overwhelming) time for event creators. Obviously, U.S. travel guidelines and restrictions vary from country to country. For example, Canadians are now allowed to enter the U.S. for nonessential reasons with proof of vaccination. (Even with a negative COVID-19 test, non-vaccinated individuals cannot enter). Those who are vaccinated will need to show not just proof of vaccination, but a negative COVID-19 test within 72 before travel. Canada has gone as far as to open its borders to travelers from all countries, provided they have proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test.
Other countries are a bit more lenient on the unvaccinated. Denmark, for example, allows unvaccinated travelers to enter the country as long as they take a PCR COVID-19 test on arrival. They must then quarantine for ten days, but that period can be terminated by a negative PCR result. Since tests usually come back within two to four days, unvaccinated travelers usually don’t have to endure the ten full days of isolation.
England has also created a feasible avenue for unvaccinated people to enter the country. Current guidelines state that vaccinated travelers must take a COVID-19 test on or before their second day of arrival. Those who have not been vaccinated (or are not fully vaccinated) are required to take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to traveling. They must also self-isolate for ten days once in the country, and take two additional PCR tests on days two and eight. Both vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers are mandated to complete a passport locator form.
Why is this an important development? There are two main reasons. As of November 1st, England removed all remaining countries and territories on its red list. This means that travelers from Peru, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Haiti, Panama, and Ecuador may all enter the country with proof of vaccination. And of course, in keeping with the guidelines we shared above, unvaccinated people need a negative COVID-10 test upon arrival and a self-isolation period that includes two more tests. To those who haven’t been vaccinated, this may feel rigorous or excessive, but keeping COVID-19 numbers down while reopening closed borders is a worthy undertaking.
Navigating the World as an Event Creator
On the surface, it may seem like international travel bans have minimal impact on small businesses whose attendees are usually local. However, as event creators have quickly learned, international travel guidelines can change who is entering small businesses or events. Naturally, people who are visiting from another country will become consumers and attend events- it’s that simple. In the United States, many guidelines for entry to events are still left up to the state or individual business. What should you do to prioritize safety and accommodate your unvaccinated guests? The good news is that, within certain parameters that apply to everyone, you have options. Just like England and several other countries have taken the initiative to prioritize safety while creating an avenue for unvaccinated travelers, you might do the same.
As we all know, U.S. citizens are widely polarized in their stance on vaccine mandates. While some argue that mandates keep people safe and continue to progress society out of a pandemic, others stand by the belief that vaccination should be a personal choice. Let’s be real: It doesn’t take a scientist (or an event creator) to understand that this is a complex issue that affects many people in different ways. The pressure remains to keep loyal attendees and consumers happy while putting safety first.
You know your audience best. Is there a high vaccination rate in your area? If not, would requiring negative COVID-19 tests within two days before entry help keep your events safe? Decisions about international travel may have been made by the government, but you have some say in how these changes impact your business.
Another noteworthy occurrence in England: On Sept. 12th, it was announced that vaccine passports would not become mandatory for entry to large-scale events and nightclubs. The country had originally planned to require them but received massive backlash from some politicians and the event industry. The government has stated that it was able to prevent the requirement of passports because of increased vaccination rates and new treatments for COVID-19. However, many people have speculated that the backlash from the event industry, specifically nightclubs, was responsible for preventing that particular mandate. After all, making large events altogether off-limits to unvaccinated people could have a significant impact on the economy.
The implication here? The event industry may have more influence than they collectively imagine. This is probably especially true when it comes to large events, which boost the economy. But small businesses can and do have far-reaching voices as well. If the pandemic has shown event creators nothing else, it’s that they need each other. Now is the time to get together and make decisions about how to best manage in-person events in your community. After all, the travel ban lift is a positive thing for event professionals! With thoughtful and wise navigation, this journey into the next phase can be a great one.