Travel to and from Europe remains restricted in the United States, and guidelines in place since the COVID-19 pandemic began has affected tourism in just about every state in the nation, including Arizona.
Currently, travel from the U.S. to countries in the European Union is forbidden as cases in the former continue to rise. Arizona is one of the hotspots in the country, and even states like New York are requiring people from the Grand Canyon State to quarantine 14 days upon arrival.
Meanwhile, people are not allowed to travel from Europe to the U.S. yet unless they live here or for certain life-or-death emergencies.
That’s leaving some money out of the piggy bank in Arizona. In 2018, European visitors accounted for about 10% — about 584,000 — of the state’s entire international visitation of 5.9 million people for that year, according to the Arizona Office of Tourism. After Mexico — 3.8 million — and Canada — 975,000 — Arizona’s next largest groups of international visitors that year were from Germany — 133,600 — the United Kingdom — 124,400 — and France — 108,700. The data doesn’t break down international visitation by season.
“Our office continues to work to support Arizona’s hospitality industry and the people it employs throughout this crisis,” stated Debbie Johnson, director of the AOT. “Our goal is to be fully prepared to provide the amazing experiences both domestic and international visitors expect in Arizona, just as soon as the time is right again for travel.”
Arizona’s tourism industry, which hosted more than 45.5 million visitors and contributed more than $24 billion in visitor spending in 2018, is a critical driver of the state’s economy, according to a release from the AOT.
Earlier this year, officials at Sky Harbor said current modeling shows that sometime around 2023, the airport should return to its record 2019 passenger numbers. Last year, Sky Harbor served 46.3 million passengers. Further, the Airports Council International- North American had estimated passenger traffic from April to June would drop by about 85%, with an industry loss of up to $23 billion as due to the pandemic.
Traveling has become less common during the COVID-19 pandemic, with recent numbers showing over 584,283 total passengers through Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport during the month of May, an 85.2% decrease from the 3.9 million in May 2019. Traffic through the airport is down 44.8% from 19.7 million in January-May 2019 to 10.9 million during the same months in 2020.
International travel is also down, as only 892 international travelers came through Sky Harbor in May, according to the airport’s statistics, compared to 162,067 international travelers the same month last year — a 99.4% decrease.
Ms. Johnson says overseas international visitors are important because they spend more on average per person per day — between $1,400 and $1,600 — and they typically stay in a destination longer than domestic visitors.
“So the COVID-19 crisis and subsequent restrictions on flights are absolutely having a devastating impact across the industry, for all travelers and destinations,” Ms. Johnson stated.
If you do plan to travel abroad and need a passport, be prepared for a wait unless you have an emergency. In March, the U.S. Department of State significantly reduced passport operations by temporarily suspending expedited passport processing and restricting service to cases involving life-or-death emergencies.
As of June 11, various passport agencies and centers are entering phase one of the department’s reopening plan. Passport agencies and centers are only open to assist customers who need a passport in the next 72 hours for a life-or-death emergency. For the health and safety of employees and customers, officials are minimizing the amount of time employees and customers spend together in agencies and centers, according to a Q&A on the Department of State’s website. Customers must make an appointment for life-or-death emergency service and cannot walk in to an agency or center.
According to the department, life-or-death emergencies are serious illnesses, injuries, or deaths in your immediate family — parent, child, spouse, sibling, and grandparent — that require you to travel outside the U.S. within 72 hours — or three days.
Travelers must provide: a passport application with supporting documents; proof of the life-or-death emergency such as a death certificate, a statement from a mortuary, or a signed letter from a hospital or medical professional, and proof of international travel — reservation, ticket, itinerary — specific to the emergency.
Rod Spurgeon, spokesman for USPS in Arizona, said they are still accepting passport applications via an online scheduler for anyone who needs a passport.
He said scheduling appointments at www.tools.usps.com/rcas.htm allows USPS to keep customers and employees safe through social distancing by limiting the number of individuals in the offices.
“Passport applications are down from the same period last year,” Mr. Spurgeon said. “We’ve seen approximately 30 percent fewer applications year to date than in 2019.”
As a frame of reference, USPS accepted 6.6 million passport applications at its post offices nationwide in 2019, according to a USPS Fact Sheet.
The U.S. Department of State also makes available weekly passport numbers. For the week of June 18-24, the department received 134,000 applications, had 1.61 million passports awaiting issuance, and had 187,000 passports issued. Numbers for applications received and passports issued have increased from each of the previous two weeks, while passports awaiting issuance have declined.
Keep in mind, people can still apply for a passport, but unless they have a life-or-death emergency, they will experience delays before receiving their passport and the return of their citizenship documents — previous passports, birth and naturalization certificates. The Department of State will not offer normal processing times until phase three of its reopening plan.
The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel, per a global health advisory issued March 31.
“There is evidence that people are eager to travel,” Ms. Johnson stated. “Many factors such as border closures, flight availability, travel restrictions by country, vaccine development, traveler confidence and travel culture are all influencing when and to what degree a return to travel, especially from overseas international visitors, will occur.
“A successful reopening is dependent on the actions by Arizonans and visitors to keep themselves and their families, friends and businesses safe. Fortunately, most Arizonans are listening to guidance from the Arizona Department of Health Services and doing the right thing. It is through these individual actions that we, together as an industry and as a state, will work to stop the spread.
“Right now, the critical importance of wearing masks and face-coverings, physically distancing while out in public, frequent hand washing and staying home when sick cannot be over-emphasized.”