James Wung's Minneapolis travel agency was hit hard by the pandemic. He had to let his only three employees go and has been working a few hours a day because most of his customers are international travelers who have been forced to stay home.
But he's hoping business will pick up again now that the Biden administration announced Monday that it will allow fully vaccinated travelers from around the world to enter the U.S. beginning in November.
"The airport was locked down for much of 2020. We survived that and it was very difficult," said Wung, who has owned One World Travel in Uptown for more than 10 years. "We did book some, it's just that it's more restrictive. … When they lift it, it will be easier."
The news was met with mixed reactions at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Monday afternoon.
Jonathan Gerber of California, who was going to a health care conference in Minnesota, said he was cautiously optimistic.
"I think it's a good thing, if you're vaccinated, you're safe," he said, adding he was still concerned about hospitalization rates. "I don't think it will improve the situation."
Others were eager for a return to pre-pandemic normalcy, without vaccine, mask or travel regulations.
Jim Woodward of New Jersey said the move was a long time coming. Since the pandemic started, Woodward hasn't traveled to places requiring quarantines or vaccinations.
"Let us live life," he said. "It's not a vacation if you have to wear a mask."
The travel restriction has taken a toll on international travel at MSP.
Airport spokesman Patrick Hogan said in an e-mail that during the first seven months of 2021, close to 369,000 people traveled between MSP and international destinations compared with nearly 2 million in the first seven months of 2019.
"The easing of restrictions on international travel to the United States should be a big help in reinvigorating international travel demand," Hogan wrote. "The pandemic will continue to soften demand, but fewer restrictions will certainly help spur more international travel."
Many international visitors will likely travel to the Mayo Clinic or the Mall of America, where 10% of its annual 40 million visitors, in pre-pandemic times, are from outside the U.S. The Mall of America typically offers up to 90 travel packages from 38 countries, and the tourism team promotes the mall overseas, specifically in China in recent years.
Hundreds of international students at the University of Minnesota have been separated from family and friends throughout the pandemic, said Barbara Kappler, assistant dean of International Student and Scholar Services. Soon those students will have the opportunity to invite family to attend their graduation ceremonies and visit campus. But Kappler said only those from countries where vaccines are accessible can actually benefit from the travel ban being lifted.
"Even if there isn't an immediate impact, that sense that there's one less barrier ... does have a positive impact for family and friends being able to travel, if they so choose," she said. "This does draw attention to the fact that not everyone has access to the vaccine, highlighting that global inequity."
The policy announced Monday will lift restrictions on foreign travelers from 33 countries including China, India and many Western European countries. Foreign travelers will need to be fully vaccinated with a negative coronavirus test within three days of arriving in the U.S. The changes announced apply only to air travel, not along the land border. Nonessential travel by Canadians over land and river into the U.S. will remain restricted for at least another month.
Unvaccinated Americans overseas traveling home will need to test negative for the coronavirus one day before traveling to the U.S. and show proof that they have bought a test to take after arriving.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.