Zephyr Adventures is requiring all our 2021 travelers to undergo mandatory COVID testing or to have been vaccinated before coming on a tour. This is an excellent way to increase the safety of our participants. So why do businesses seem to be so reluctant to support mandatory COVID testing in the travel industry?
Zephyr Adventures’ Mandatory Testing Policy
For our scheduled 2021 group tours, we will require one of the following for all participants:
- A negative COVID PCR test done within 72 hours of the tour start. If you cannot obtain a test locally, we will provide information on how to do mail-based tests that are quite reasonable at $119.
- Proof of vaccination, including the required second or booster shot.
- Proof of recent (within 90 days) COVID infection and recovery.
This is not foolproof but it will certainly reduce the risk of someone arriving on a tour who is infected with COVID-19, especially when coupled with other safety measures such as mask wearing and social distancing.
Required Testing Throughout the World
We are not the only ones requiring COVID tests. Following are people who are required to get tests:
- International travelers are required by almost all countries to have a negative result on a COVID test, including (just recently) the US
- 17 US states require incoming passengers to quarantine and/or test negative
- Professional athletes get tested daily
- Fans at the Buffalo Bills NFL playoff games were required to test negative to enter the stadium
- Weddings in New York can take place with up to 150 guests if guests test negative
- Olympic athletes will be required to test negative
- On January 26, a CDC official said the agency was “actively looking into” requiring negative COVID tests for some domestic travel
Travel Industry Is Not Supportive
Airline executives expressed reluctance to have mandatory COVID testing on domestic travel. The US Travel Association put out a statement that said “mandatory testing is impractical”. And while airlines have created programs to offer optional COVID testing, most of the required testing has come from state rules such as those in Hawaii.
I looked at three of our competitors, active travel tour operators, to see what their policies are regarding testing. One requires tests of its guides and recommends but does not require tests of its travelers. A second recommends tests but has a seven-day window in advance of a tour for those tests. A third does not even mention COVID safety or testing on its website!
The Arguments Against Mandatory COVID Testing in the Travel Industry
Is requiring testing of employees or customers legal? Yes. In April, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission revised its guidelines so that employers can require employees to test for the infection. Businesses can also do this with customers as long as they are not discriminating.
So why are more companies not requiring negative COVID tests? I think it boils down to two issues:
- Rights: We in the United States are touchy about requiring anyone to do anything, in fear of inhibiting on someone’s civil liberties. Yet we require people to do things all the time: get vaccines to attend school, wear seat belts in a car, get a drivers license, etc. I believe mandatory COVID testing is becoming widely accepted … and the same might happen with mandatory vaccination for travel. Yet businesses are loathe to be the ones to step out ahead of public opinion.
- Money: The truth is, many businesses do not want to do anything to limit their sales. If 10% of a tour company’s customers decline to travel with a company that requires COVID tests, that can hurt. The CEO of American Airlines was blunt about this when he said of possible required testing for domestic travel, “We certainly want to make sure it is something that wouldn’t restrict demand.” Yet I believe travelers will be looking for travel options that keep them safe and mandatory testing might just increase travel.
Priority Is To Fight the Pandemic
The priority of everyone should be to conquer this pandemic. First and foremost, we need to save lives. Next, we need to restore our economy. But for the travel industry, we need to realize travel will never get back to “normal” until the pandemic goes away. Mandatory COVID testing in the travel industry can help.
So I believe resistance or even foot dragging by the travel industry to mandatory testing is not only against the best interests of society, it is shooting ourselves in that same foot we are dragging along.