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The U.S. Travel Association has outlined its recommendations for the road ahead, which includes working together with the Biden Administration on an ambitious agenda that was unveiled Jan. 27 by Roger Dow, president and CEO of U.S. Travel, during his annual State of the Travel Industry 2021 address.
A year ago, Dow’s annual speech focused on the travel industry’s entrance into what he called the “Comeback Decade” — a time of immense growth.
And although the last year has been the antithesis of a golden age, U.S. Travel is looking toward the “Next Great Chapter,” and one Dow says will be filled with “innovation, tenacity and focus.”
Although nearly decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry can now work with a new Congress and a new administration to revive the economy, restore lost jobs and unify Americans, says Dow, who wants to build on legislative wins of 2020 including the $900 billion relief legislation passed in December. U.S. Travel also looks forward to tackling several critical components of Biden’s just-announced American Rescue Plan, which will provide much-needed grants to the travel industry and include funding for vaccine distribution.
“These measures are a start, but our work is not done,” Dow said in his address. “Much more will be needed to ensure that travel businesses weather this storm and help fuel America’s economic recovery."
Much more will be needed to ensure that travel businesses weather this storm and help fuel America’s economic recovery.
U.S. Travel’s new policy platform focuses on five key areas for long-term focus: Economic recovery; infrastructure investment and the future of mobility; increasing global competitiveness; revamping air travel; and improving travel facilitation. The main priority for the short-term, according to the organization, is to get control of the virus by rigorously adhering to health and safety protocols and accelerating nationwide vaccine distribution.Here are the specific changes the U.S. Travel Association hopes lawmakers implement in each of the key areas.
Revive the Economy by Getting Travel Back on its Feet Economic recovery will not be possible without the restart of travel, which was the nation’s second-largest industry export and accounted for one in 10 jobs in 2019. This includes ensuring that travel companies have access to the funds they need to stay afloat, whether that’s in the form of grants, loans or expanded unemployment benefits.
It also includes the return of the meetings and events industry.
“We’re all grateful for Zoom; we couldn’t have survived without it,” Dow said. “But, from both a social and economic standpoint, it’s no substitute for in-person meetings. The only reason virtual meetings have been somewhat successful is that they are built on a foundation of years of in-person relationships.”
He also hopes that a spike in hybrid events — where some participants attend face-to-face and others join virtually — will allow those viewing at home to see how safe their in-person colleagues are, and will inspire them to attend an in-person event in the future.
“Hybrid events have also taught us that we can open up meetings to much bigger audiences,” Dow added. “I’ve been on Zoom calls with up to 12,000 people. What an opportunity to take meetings and open them up to a whole new set of attendees who can get a taste of it and want to come next year.”
Modernize Transportation Infrastructure and Invest in National ParksEven before the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. infrastructure has long needed an upgrade, according to Dow.Therefore, U.S. Travel is asking the Biden Administration to pledge $550 billion toward improving the nation’s highways, transit systems, passenger rail systems and airports within the next five years.
Additionally, national parks need increased attention — especially as travelers continue to flock toward pandemic-friendly outdoor spaces — so they can continue to cater toward visitors sustainably and complete long-deferred maintenance projects.
That same spirit should spur us to look beyond our existing systems and invest in new modes of transportation — to bring innovation back to infrastructure and work toward a future we cannot yet imagine.
“American innovation and ingenuity made our nation first in flight,” Dow said. “It created the national park system to preserve the beauty of our country. It built the interstate highway system that drove a growing economy and enabled travel for millions. That same spirit should spur us to look beyond our existing systems and invest in new modes of transportation — to bring innovation back to infrastructure and work toward a future we cannot yet imagine.”
Entice Visitors to Come to AmericaIn 2019, 79 million international arrivals spent about $255 billion in the U.S., leading to a travel trade surplus of $59 billion. That number shrank to a meager 19 million passengers in 2020, and Dow is predicting that 2021 will see only about 33 million visitors.
Once international travel has fully resumed, a top priority for the U.S. government should be to attract international visitors to its shores, restoring its position as a global leader and positioning the country as a welcoming destination for non-residents.
One way to do this, according to Dow, is for the government to view travel as an export, just as it would for any other industry. The organization is appealing to Biden to establish a new assistant secretary for travel and tourism within the U.S. Department of Commerce to help bring back travel to its 2019 levels (when it was America’s second-largest industry export, accounting for 10% of all U.S. exports of goods and services). Another solution is to increase support funding for Brand USA, the official destination marketing organization for the U.S.
Travel should also be at the center of trade agreements with the U.K., Japan, the EU and others, which includes easing travel facilitation and implementing enhanced visa processing (especially as it relates to corporate travel), according to Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy for U.S. Travel.
Improve Programs Within the Air Travel Industry“As we modernize our infrastructure and encourage travel, we should also seize the opportunity to reimagine a stronger, more innovative air travel ecosystem,” Dow said.
Some 20 U.S. airports and seven seaports currently use passengers’ biometric data for arriving or departing passengers, but an increase in these services will provide faster facilitation, greater accuracy and a more secure travel environment. Dow cautions that it should not, however, be used for surveillance or law enforcement purposes.
In the same vein, U.S. Travel is requesting that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security continues to improve the REAL ID Act (which is set to go into effect on Oct. 1) to give Americans more time to become REAL ID compliant.
Dow noted that it has been especially challenging for Americans to get to their local Department of Motor Vehicles for an upgraded ID during the pandemic.
In addition to extending the deadline for acquiring a REAL ID, enforcement should be delayed until it is shown “that implementation will not reverse or slow the industry’s recovery,” he said. In the meantime, U.S. Travel is recommending that the government introduce alternate screening processes so Americans are not turned away at the airport gate.
Additionally, Dow is pushing for expedited visas for low-risk applicants; automated applications for non-immigrant visas; and the combination of TSA Precheck, Global Entry, Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (Sentri) and Nexus into one comprehensive pre-screened traveler program.
“Extraordinary times call for bold vision,” Dow said. “Travel defines the American spirit. It inspires our sense of adventure, brings forth our welcoming nature, fulfills our aspirations to connect with the world and with each other. Travel’s next chapter will be fueled by an even greater focus — a greater determination. It will be fueled by the strength of the remarkable men and women who contribute so much to this industry.”
The DetailsU.S. Travel Associationwww.ustravel.org