The European Union has said it will open its borders to many overseas visitors, but not to Americans. More galling, it also plans to allow in tourists from China if authorities there reciprocate and approve travel by Europeans.
This development is not only deeply embarrassing, but also threatening to our economic recovery, our sense of freedom, and potentially our national security. If America is to continue having substantial economic influence in Europe, we must be able to travel between our two continents.
We should operate from the premise that long-distance travelers are predisposed to be more cautious and conscientious of their health before traveling. They will follow the guidelines for testing, hygiene, social distancing, and masks if required.
Yet no clear measures have been put into place for cross-border travel – and it has been more than a month since President Trump declared that the U.S. would soon open borders to countries in Europe with lower rates of infection.
The bureaucratic malaise must end. If the European Union, comprising many nations can put a clear plan in place, then the U.S. should be able to act faster and do better.
We know that China has a plan. Having lived in Beijing in 2008 and 2009, working with U.S. and Chinese officials to expand travel between our countries at the time, I know first-hand about the strategy and the stakes.
China is now in a better position to advance its longtime strategy to take over America’s influential role in Europe. This strategy will work so long as we are distracted internally while they are totally focused on their objective.
If Americans are banned from travel to countries while tourists from China are not, and Europeans are banned from coming to America but they can go to China, that means American businesses, jobs and futures are at peril of not recovering from this global crisis that originated in China.
China wins, America loses. And in the long run, Europe loses as well because its core democratic values are not shared by China.
Travel and tourism are some of the most effective forms of diplomacy, allowing for people-to-people shared experiences.
Historically, Americans love traveling to Europe and vice-versa. Europeans spend billions of dollars each year in America which employs many millions of Americans.
German travelers like to experience our wide-open spaces, often for several weeks, witnessing our natural wonders, which is also perfect for social distancing.
They like to stay in our hotels, most now running less than 20 percent occupancy, so America especially needs them.
American hospitality workers from housekeeping to front desk to management need them. American owners of hotels needing to make their mortgage payments need them.
So what is a solution given the current situation? One practical and immediate step would be for the U.S. and Germany to initiate a pilot program allowing lower-risk travelers to fly between designated gateway locations in our countries starting as soon as possible under agreed guidelines which can be monitored before opening travel with more countries and gateways. This would solve the concerns over COVID spreading in certain areas of America.
Before becoming President, Donald Trump was successful in the hospitality industry. He knows first-hand how travelers keep the lights on for hotel companies.
The Recovery Task Force and CDC know that screened travelers from European countries with low infection rates are fundamentally low risk.
They need to announce a plan to reopen travel to America.
Now is the time to prioritize common sense international travel.
Noel Irwin Hentschel is the CEO of AmericanTours International, which she co-founded in 1977. She serves on the board of Brand USA and has advised seven U.S. Secretaries of Commerce on travel and tourism.