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Think about the last time you traveled to attend an in-person business meeting.

You likely shook hands—a lot of them. Pocketed several business cards. Helped yourself to a pastry and passed a colleague a cup of coffee. Then shook more hands. Worked on your laptop on the plane ride home, unconcerned about whether your elbows were resting on a sanitized surface.

The once-“normal” rituals of business travel seem like alien practices from another lifetime.

Without question, the lockdowns made necessary by the pandemic have greatly shifted the day-to-day habits of many business travelers and executives. Though I took several flights per month for business purposes last year, I’m mostly grounded these days.

And I’m not alone: U.S. Travel Association economists estimate $109 billion in business travel spending has been lost during the pandemic since early March (March-July), an incredible 71% decline from the same period last year.

Overall, travel is one of the hardest-hit industries in the economic fallout of the pandemic, with more than eight million U.S. jobs lost due to decreased travel. The U.S. is on track to lose more than half a billion in travel spending this year, creating an economic impact that is 10 times worse than that of the September 11 attacks.

So, how do we solve this? How do we get Americans moving again and revive our struggling economy, even as we navigate operating in the age of coronavirus?

Like most complex problems, there is not a simple solution. A well-coordinated federal policy framework of relief, protection and stimulus will be needed to climb back to the 15.8 million American jobs the travel industry supported pre-pandemic. But there is a straightforward action that the federal government can take right now to get our economy on the path to recovery: increase the federal role in COVID-19 testing.

It makes perfect sense from both a health and economic perspective. Widely available, rapid testing allows those with a positive diagnosis to isolate more quickly and prevent the spread of infection. Increased testing also provides the general public with more confidence to resume normal aspects of our daily lives—including traveling, which will help restore jobs and put Americans back to work.

There is little debate among my colleagues that an economic recovery is, in part, contingent on this. I recently joined 12 other CEOs from some of America’s most recognizable travel brands in sending a letter to the White House and congressional leaders urging an enhanced federal role in broadening the availability of efficient, effective COVID-19 testing methods. Encouragingly, the U.S. Senate’s proposal for the next phase of coronavirus relief includes provisions to address this very issue by adopting key components of the bipartisan TEST Act, a bill that would increase the federal role in COVID-19 testing.

Other healthy practices—such as wearing a mask, washing hands frequently and staying home if you are feeling sick—go hand-in-hand with a coordinated federal testing response. Though it is a point of contention among some Americans, the fact of the matter, backed by numerous scientific studies, is that face coverings are essential to mitigating risk. And the few times I have needed to travel for work during the pandemic, I’ve been encouraged by the health and safety measures hotels, airlines, airports and other travel businesses have put in place to protect customers and employees.

I know we are all eager to return to “normal,” but we must accept the fact that “normal” is not a reality in America until we increase testing and get a handle on the virus. It will not be easy, but when Washington puts the right policies in place, we can mitigate the economic impact, shorten the recovery time, and prevent the further loss of jobs in the travel and hospitality sectors.

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In This The Itinerary
Roger Dow is the former president and CEO of U.S. Travel Association, the Washington, D.C.-based organization representing all segments of travel in America. U.S. Travel’s mission is to increase travel to and within the United States. View Profile ›

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