Let's outline some of the many ways a President Biden can positively impact travel recovery:
Biden-Harris Transition Priorities
The transition team has identified four priorities—COVID-19, economic recovery, racial justice, and climate change, each of which plays a key role in the future of travel.
Biden and Harris immediately brought together a COVID-19 advisory board made up of public health experts, doctors, and scholars after their November victory. Based on latest advice and scientific findings, the administration is focused on mitigating the current surge in coronavirus cases, expanding access to free COVID-19 testing, mandating masks nationwide and providng clear, consistent guidance regarding how communities should respond to the crisis - e.g. when businesses should open or close etc, guaranteeing coronavirus vaccines will be made available free to every American. COVID-19 and the economy are inextricably linked - travel recovery will be difficult until the virus is under control.
Acknowledging the significant economic toll caused by the pandemic, the Biden administration wants to provide aid and relief to the people and sectors still suffering from the setbacks - aid local governments so essential workers can remain on the payroll, extend COVID-related unemployment payments to those who are out of work and provide incentives for small businesses to reopen, invest in a green economy and workforce, make affordable childcare accessible for all.
U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow: “We applaud President-elect Biden’s objective of helping the industries most heavily impacted by the pandemic. The travel industry accounts for more than a third of overall U.S. unemployment, and policies to promote relief, recovery, and stimulus for travel businesses are integral to a U.S. economic turnaround.”
Biden has pledged to address systemic racism, economic inequality by investing in critical small businesses, improving access to homeownership and affordable housing, ensuring equity in higher education, management, and training, closing the racial wealth gap and promoting diversity across federal agencies This tone is key to greater cooperation and connectivity within and beyond our borders. Instead of travel bans, this planned engagement between the US and the rest of the world is certainly important to drive travel ahead. The administration plans to focus on uniting people - making it easier for U.S. citizens to travel abroad and making the U.S. a more welcoming destination for international visitors.
Climate change has been at the forefront of the global agenda in terms of issues that need to be addressed immediately and forcefully. The new administration's hopes to create clean energy jobs centered around sustainable infrastructure projects and technologies, investments in electric vehicle manufacturing, zero-emission public transit options in every U.S. city, clean electricity and sustainable homes etc. Biden has also pledged to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate action. From a larger environmental focus on travel (e.g. initiatives like requiring airlines to purchase carbon offsets) to fuel efficiency standards for cars to new investments in clean energy technologies (solar, wind, electric), travel has a major role to play.
Emphasis on (All) Infrastructure
President Biden's planned focus on infrastructure will hopefully be a major boon to many components of need across the economy. America’s aging airports, transportation links (buses, train) and roads stand to be improved from a physical infrastructure standpoint. Beyond physical infrastructure, Biden intends to focus on human infrastructure and human care - childcare, contract tracers, paid family and medical leave etc.
Larger health role for Dept of Transportation
During the pandemic’s early days, as transportation groups asked the DOT to require airlines and other transportation companies to provide protective equipment to workers and require their use; however, the agency said its focus is on safety of flight and it is not a public health agency.
DOT has engaged in other areas of public health - banning e-cigarettes from airlines and helping to quash the transmission of Ebola etc. Biden and Transportation Secretary nominee Pete Buttigieg will likely and hopefully take a more aggressive approach and see DOT as also a public health agency when it comes to our transportation system.
While nearly all passenger airlines have instituted some passenger mask requirement, Biden’s promise to require masks on all interstate travel and on government properties would provide beneficial uniformity. Biden promised to institute a nationwide mask mandate and he’s asked Americans to join him for 100 days of mask wearing after he is sworn in.
Unified messaging is one of the most important things the federal government can do to ensure confidence in travel once the pandemic is passed. Standardization of rules and clear messaging on what those rules are would help people who must and want to travel figure out the best way to do so safely.
Vaccinating transportation and hospitality workers
There is an argument to be made that ransportation workers should be a priority population for the COVID-19 vaccines due to frequent interaction with the public and thus added likelihood to be exposed - e.g. airline workers, bus/train workers, hotel workers and restaurant workers.
Even as Congress worked late last year to finish up a $908B coronavirus relief bill with $45B in aid for the travel industry, Biden said it was a “down payment” on what was needed to revive the economy. The relief includes $15B to reinstate payroll reimbursements to airlines through March, $1B for airline contractors, $2B for airports and concessions, $14B for transit, $10B for state highways, $1B for Amtrak and $2B for buses, motor coaches and ferries.
Additional funding would help the economy through (hopefully) the remainder of the pandemic. Airlines received its second funding - the first $25B of airline payroll funding (part of the $2T stimulus bill) expired in October, leading to signifcant furloughs. Furloughed workers returning have to be recertified and re-credentialed which could last until this new funding round expires.