Trump International Hotel in Chicago. Photo: TonyTheTiger
The incoming Trump Administration is likely to take positive and concililatory positions that will benefit the travel industry, according to a group of Washington insiders convened yesterday by the United States Travel Association.
In a discussion that aired live on Facebook yesterday, the group said it believes President-Elect Donald Trump will take a more aggressive approach on issues like immigration reform and homeland security, and help the travel community, given that he owns several hospitality companies and needs to put early wins on the board to prove he is the agent of change he has promised to be.
While voters and others have expressed concerns about some Trump campaign promises, many panelists reminded the public that Presidents and Congress have limited resources and need to prioritize issues. Others noted how Trump has owned holdings in the travel industry for decades, and that he may be a president more attuned to the industry’s needs than any previous candidate.
Trump “totally gets” that tourism creates jobs, said Jonathan Grella, US Travel’s executive vice president of Public Affairs. “You’re not starting at square one and educating him about that.”
One of the most prominent issues facing a Trump administration is immigration policy and the U.S. visa waiver program. Many in the travel and restaurant industries are concerned that his promises to deport illegal aliens and make immigration to the U.S. more difficult could impact their ability to fill jobs.
Grella is not overly concerned, based on the fact that Trump owns hotels and casinos, which frequently employ undocumented workers. “I have to think he is aware of what it means to hire undocumented workers,” he said.
Also, Trump’s threats to deport immigrants would have to be funded and prioritized against a host of other important and more immediate concerns, several observers said.
Kate Mills, a lobbyist with the Monument Policy Group, said, “If we’re talking about aliens, he’s working with limited resources. He will have to prioritize. He’s also going to have to deal with the fact that a lot of people here on visas are here legally.”
Sam Geduldig, with the D.C. lobbying firm CGNC Group, said that Republicans may be willing to offer illegal aliens “a green card for life. That is where a lot of Republicans are.”
One avenue to compromise is for the travel industry to educate the new administration and members of Congress on the practical impacts of legislation, and try to move the dialogue away from political polarization, Geduldig said.
“In every Congress there are brand new issues that pop up. We have to make them comfortable with these issues and the industry’s needs. The lower you can get the temperature on mundane reasonable fixes, the easier it is to get legislation passed in Congress,” he said, adding though that “immigration would be a hot cup of tea.”
Securing the borders
A second Trump campaign promise is securing the borders. During the campaign, several prominent travel industry executives expressed concern that a Trump presidency might dramatically slow tourism to the United States by blocking certain religious and regional ethnicities from traveling, and make travel to certain countries more difficult.
The USTA’s panelists aren’t so concerned though.
Patricia Roja-Ungar, USTA VP of government relations, believes that “there is some evidence we will be able to work with the Trump administration for a safe [Homeland Security] system, but a system that allows for the free flow of legitimate travelers. There is some misunderstanding with him being hard on illegal immigration. That doesn’t mean he would be hard on legal immigration. He is from the hospitality industry,” she said. “We are not as far apart as people might think.”
The panelists also felt that a Trump presidency would work toward improving the travel industry’s infrastructure, including the nation’s airports.
Legislative logjam could be unclogged
Additionally, others believe that the legislative logjam seen in the last eight years might be relieved by the fact that one party holds the White House and both houses of Congress, and that this particular President campaigned on the promise of doing things. This might make the new administration more open and accountable to compromising.
“I think he is going to be more inclined to sign bills coming from a House and Senate [governed by Republicans],” Geduldig said.
Patrick O’Connor, CGNC Group, said Trump’s mindset will be, “If I can get a win on the board, great, let’s go. I just want to move.”
USTA’s Roja-Ungar agreed. “We need to look at his agenda, look at our agenda, and find common ground. There are so many natural directions we can take, where we are aligned. Let him use our agenda to put wins on the board.”
Mills offered caution on the issue, though, because many voters are looking for actions that might not be aligned with entities like USTA, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others who are seeking comprehensive immigration reform. She noted the “populist sentiment” that is concerned with illegal immigration that helped vote Trump into office. “He is going to have to thread the needle” on this issue, she said.
Geduldig also noted how the country may force a more hardline stance in the event of a future event, like a terrorist attack. “We are always one tragedy away from chaos. Should that happen, he will want to move swiftly. Executive orders are an option for him. But one bad apple can cause a lot of problems for this industry,” he said.
“We are never out of the woods on that in this climate right now,” Grella agreed.
O’Connor also cautioned the industry regarding Trump’s hardline campaign promises about negating trade agreements and imposing tariffs. “One wrinkle for a lot of foreign concerns, he is toying with the idea of starting trade wars, and that could have negative repercussions for a lot of industries,” he said. Retaliation could come at the expense of the travel industry.