By Max Darrow

SAN FRANCISCO INT’L AIRPORT (KPIX 5) – Hard hit by the pandemic, the Bay Area’s tourism industry is gearing up as the U.S. is set to loosen rules for international travelers vaccinated against COVID-19 starting next month.

On November 8, COVID-19 travel restrictions imposed on foreign nationals will be lifted if they are fully vaccinated. Travelers will have to show proof of vaccination before boarding a plane into the United States.

The policy allows for all FDA approved and authorized vaccines – Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson – or vaccines the World Health Organization has approved for emergency use, to be accepted.

Travelers will also have to show a negative COVID-19 test taken within 3 days of the trip. However, they will not have to quarantine upon arrival.

“This is good news for all airports, but especially for SFO,” said San Francisco International Airport spokesperson Doug Yakel. “SFO has one of the largest slices of international activity of any US airport. Pre-pandemic, about 25% of all of our passengers were international.”

The global pandemic and U.S. imposed travel restrictions on foreigners hit the Bay Area especially hard. In August of 2021, SFO saw 397,923 international passengers. In August of 2019, the airport saw 1,506,774 international passengers.

Meanwhile at San Jose International Airport, officials at SJC said they saw 34,421 international passengers in August of 2021, compared to 78,061 in August of 2019.

“In 2019, just to give you an example, 63% of all tourism spending in San Francisco is by international visitors. That has been shut down since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Joe D’Alessandro, president & CEO of SF Travel. “We’re going to be activating a lot of our marketing and sales and promotional programs in Europe and other parts of the world that are opening, saying, hey, San Francisco is ready for you, we’re a safe destination to visit, come on and enjoy the things that you love about this city.”

D’Alessandro told KPIX 5 that doesn’t expect travel to pick up instantly, but believes it will be a gradual and steady increase.

“It’s going to be a slow start – it’s not going to be like on Nov. 8, we’re going to have all these new flights coming in and all these people getting off the planes – but it’s going to be the beginning,” he said. “This is really important news for San Francisco, it’s really important for our economic recovery, and we welcome it.”

Yakel said the airport, and airlines, have already started figuring out how they’d like to plan for the future.

“They’re adding more flights, adding more seats back into the market because they know travel is going to go up when this goes into effect, and that’s good for everybody,” he said.

The policy also applies to foreign nationals who are traveling into the United States on land from Canada and Mexico.