CDC will provide names of passengers on flights from southern Africa to health departments

Roger Dow, president and CEO of the US Travel Association, speaks during a news conference in Washington, DC, on March 4, 2020.

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Roger Dow, president and CEO of the US Travel Association, speaks during a news conference in Washington, DC, on March 4, 2020. (Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Roger Dow, CEO of the US Travel Association, is questioning the logic of President Biden’s travel restrictions imposed on South Africa and seven neighboring countries in the wake of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

“We want them to revisit this quickly,” Dow told CNN in a phone interview. “We need to follow the science – and a travel ban is not the most effective way.”

Dow, whose trade group represents all parts of the $1.5 trillion travel industry, said he met multiple times with the White House over the weekend and is very encouraged Biden signaled he’s not anticipating further restrictions.

“Even the WHO came out and said the data and science don’t support this,” he said. “We don’t want to see this go beyond South Africa.”

In a statement on Tuesday, the World Health Organization said “blanket travel banks will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.”

Dow, whose industry relies on a steady stream of foreign tourists, expressed confidence in the existing health protocols to come into the United States, including requirements that visitors are vaccinated and get tested for Covid-19 in advance.

“That makes people coming in healthier than the Americans are,” he said.

Some background: On Monday, the United States banned all travel from South Africa and seven neighboring countries, with the exception of US citizens and legal permanent residents, who must test negative to enter the country.

Top US officials are considering new restrictions, including requiring everyone who enters the country to be tested for Covid-19 the day before their flight and having all travelers – including US citizens and permanent residents – be tested again after returning home, regardless of vaccination status, CNN reported on Tuesday, citing sources familiar with the discussions.

Dow acknowledged the serious health challenge facing the United States, but suggested it shouldn’t overshadow other priorities. Direct travel employment fell by 34% last year amid the pandemic, according to the US Travel Association. 

“We’ve got a health crisis, no doubt about it. But we’ve got a jobs crisis, an economic crisis, a mental health crisis and a diplomatic crisis,” he said.

Dow argued having more foreign tourists would improve America’s standing in the world. “Getting people here, traveling back and forth, is good public diplomacy,” he said.