Travel And Tour World – Following the Presidential election, how do you think has the outlook changed in the travel industry?
Roger Dow: We were optimistic about the election of this president—he’s a businessman and has a long background in the hospitality industry. And we would never criticize a president for emphasizing national security, because without effective security there would be no travel. But at this point we have a lot of evidence that many people abroad reacted unfavorably to the messaging around the president’s executive orders on visas and immigration. Rather than “we’re trying to make traveling to the U.S. safer,” they heard “the U.S. doesn’t want people to come here.” That’s an incorrect perception, and we think it’s a correctable problem. That’s why U.S. Travel is leading a broad coalition of industries to partner with the administration on sending a more positive message: the U.S. is closed to terror, but we’re open for business. Legitimate business and leisure travelers are as welcome here as ever.
Travel And Tour World – Please share your thoughts on the decision to preserve the open skies agreement.
Roger Dow: We were very happy that the administration looked at the evidence and elected to leave Open Skies agreements intact. It was the obviously correct decision both for U.S. travelers and U.S. jobs. Look, I say all the time that we want U.S. airlines to be healthy and profitable. But they simply did not make their case that the status quo under current Open Skies policy does them any harm. Meanwhile, analysis showed that freezing any overseas routes, as the U.S. Big Three airlines and their allies wanted, would both violate Open Skies and do tremendous harm to American jobs overall. We’re heartened the administration agreed.
Travel And Tour World: After the devastating hurricane season, did it affect the travel industry?
Roger Dow: Unfortunately, both natural and man-made disasters are a constant threat to our industry, and this was obviously a tough year between the two major hurricanes and now the wildfires in the West. The news media is obviously very good at covering when a region is afflicted by a disaster; I wish they would do a better job of getting the word out when that region is open for business again. For places afflicted by these challenges, travel is a critical part of getting their economies back up and running.
Travel And Tour World: What do you think about the proposed elimination of Brand USA in tax bill?
Roger Dow: Thankfully that measure was taken out of the final bill, as we were confident it would be all along. The reason it was ever in the package was because Congress had to find revenue offsets under its budget-writing rules; Brand USA was never specifically targeted, it was one of dozens of line items that were proposed to make the math work. But that would have been very counterproductive: last year, Brand USA’s activities generated $615 million in incremental federal taxes—more than four times its budget—and another $552 million in state and local taxes.
Travel And Tour World: Apart from the travel ban concern, what are the other expected challenges in travel in the coming years?
Roger Dow: Our biggest concern by far is making sure that our infrastructure keeps up with the rising demand for travel. Travel powers one out of every nine American jobs, and that number could be even higher if people travel to and within the United States as much as they are naturally inclined to. Unfortunately, we’re seeing people decide not to travel because of inadequate infrastructure. Our recent study found that Americans avoided taking 32 million trips by plane last year because flying is such as hassle; that cost our economy more than $24 billion. That’s lost economic activity, lost jobs and lost tax revenues, plain and simple. The case for fixing our airport infrastructure is so obvious, and we’re hopeful that the light will go on for Congress and the administration when they tackle infrastructure early next year.
I will also say that tourism promotion at every level of government is as important as ever, given what I was saying earlier about the perception of the U.S. as a destination. Travel is a magical creator of jobs and tax revenues, and global travel is growing. To imperil the U.S. share of that growing travel pie by proposing cuts to promotion budgets is the opposite of fiscal responsibility, and it needs to stop.