An impending Center for Disease Control and Prevention policy mandating a negative Covid-19 test for Americans returning to the United States is sending foreign governments, tourism agencies, and resort properties scrambling to arrange necessary resources.
Announced Jan. 12, and taking effect Jan. 26, the CDCs expansion of testing requirements shocked many travel destinations that still allow visits from U.S. citizens. All passengers over the age of 2 must now undergo a virus test within 72 hours of their U.S.-bound flight’s departure. They then have to provide official printed or digital documentation of their negative test result to the airline. That airline must confirm the negative result or deny boarding for that passenger.
Acceptable tests include the PCR or the Antigen variety. The latter is significantly faster, offering results in less than an hour, but is also less reliable.
Alternately, travelers can provide documentation of full recovery from Covid-19. As of now, even travelers who already received the coronavirus vaccinations still must provide negative test results or recovery documentation to gain admittance to the U.S.
If the tourist tests positive, he or she must quarantine in place at the host property for 14 days. Hotels and resorts are not required by the CDC to provide tests, pay for any medical service, or offer financial relief for guests forced to remain at the property throughout quarantine.
According to Brad
travel industry analyst and principal at airline consulting firm Walker and Associates, resorts across the hemisphere and the airlines serving them were surprised by the CDC edict.
“The airlines supported this policy, but it happened too quickly,” Walker says. “Many smaller destinations were really left scrambling.”
While the CDC didn’t officially indicate the new policy was designed to discourage international travel, Walker believes the added expense, inconvenience, and risk for passengers will have a chilling effect on the industry. That impact will fall heavily on hotels and resorts as the airlines are not positioned to issue virus tests on demand.
“The hotels didn’t see this coming, and the airlines don’t seem positioned to offer the tests,” Walker says. “American Airlines already made it clear they don’t have the resources to find the testing equipment, get it to airports, and implement the tests. It will fall largely on hotels in the various countries, and they don’t have time to waste.”
Strategies for meeting the CDC requirements vary as the most popular vacation destinations rush to forge policies, collect supplies and make preparations.
The sprawling Pueblo Bonito Golf and Spa Resorts in Cabo San Lucas got out ahead of the Covid-19 crisis, ramping up around the clock cleaning procedures, installing sanitizing mats, and requiring all guests to undergo a disinfection process before entering their properties.
With the new requirements and restrictions inbound, the Pueblo Bonito properties assembled a plan to offer test centers onsite. The medical services will be included in the guest’s all-inclusive package for minimum three-night stays.
CEO of Pueblo Bonito, says the resorts developed these plans with the assistance of the Los Cabos Tourism Board.
“The health and safety of resort guests and members is always our top priority, so we have activated on-site clinics at our resorts, with same-day test results,” Coppel says. “Our doctors and on-site staff will assist guests to comply with CDC guidelines to gain re-entry into the U.S.”
Up the Pacific beach from Pueblo Bonito, Solmar Hotels and Resorts guests pay $23 for a rapid test before arrival to the hotel. Medical staff on-site administer the test with results emailed to guests that same-day.
Solmar’s vice president of operations, says the property is offering special discounted rates for anyone who tests positive and needs to isolate.
“This past year has certainly been challenging, but we pride ourselves on our ability to evolve and adapt quickly to any situation,” Arce says.
Across the Baja Peninsula on the East Cape of Los Cabos, one of the newest and most luxurious properties now operating is the Four Seasons Resort and Residences at
Palmas. According to the resort’s official statement, Costa Palmas will provide on-site antigen testing for all international air travelers going to the U.S.
The on-site offerings will produce results in under 40 minutes, accompanied by a CDC accepted medical certification. Documentation of laboratory results are provided prior to check-out, and guests have access to a doctor-in-residence 24 hours a day. Tests cost $50-plus, or $75 in case of rushed results.
The island nation in the Caribbean managed to keep the Coronavirus in check last year by mandating virus tests for incoming travelers. Upon arrival at Bermuda’s airport near the capital city of Hamilton, staff checks every passenger’s temperature. When visitors pass that test, they receive a Covid-19 check-in at the airport. They must then stay in their given hotel rooms until they receive a government email informing them of a negative result.
Interim CEO of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, assures travelers the country has sufficient testing capacity to meet the CDC’s new Covid-19 testing requirements for travelers leaving for the United States.
“Since July of last year when Bermuda reopened its tourism industry, the island’s public health system has managed one of the most rigorous pandemic-era testing regimes in the world,” Jones says. “Buoyed by seven months of experience, Bermuda will be similarly ready to meet the new U.S. requirements as of Jan. 26.”
According to Dionisio D’Aguilar, Bahamas Minister of Tourism and Aviation, The Bahamas are well positioned to adhere to this new order. The country is looking to integrate the CDC’s testing requirements into its own existing Covid-19 protocols. Currently, visitors to The Bahamas who stay longer than four nights and five days must take a rapid antigen test on the fifth day of their stay.
“The Bahamas Government will continue to work in accordance with the CDC to curb the spread of Covid-19, which has been our top priority since the onset of this global pandemic,” D’Aguilar says. “Our journey has not been without bumps in the road, but we have made great strides in combating this virus as evidenced by the very low case numbers we have now.”
“Visitors to our shores should have peace of mind knowing that we can now offer a turnkey, affordable, and reliable testing process that meets U.S. requirements.”
Back in the U.S., Walker believes this CDC testing policy will stay in place for at least 90 days as the vaccine takes hold around the world. In the meantime, he recommends traveler’s insurance to aid in the case of extended stays or disrupted trips.
“In some cases, hotels will include that insurance in the room rate package to cover the costs of a potential extended quarantine stay,” he says.
Finally, on his first full day as the 46th president,
signed an executive order proclaiming that any traveler returning to the U.S. must also quarantine at home for 14 days. That mandate does not cancel or supersede the CDC policy, and the 14-day federal rule cannot be ignored even if the tourists returns with the required negative test.
There is no word on how these contradictory policies will coexist or how the 14-day policy can be enforced domestically.