In a sign that the travel industry is finally getting respect from the federal government, the White House Business Council welcomed top travel industry leaders last week to the first in a series of forums on economic competitiveness.
“This was a chance for us to put a spotlight on our industry, and especially on our ability to grow jobs,” Blain Rethmeier, senior vice president of public affairs for the U.S. Travel Association, told Travel Market Report.
Government strategy addressed
Government officials addressed the national travel and tourism strategy announced in January by President Obama, with the focus on welcoming 100 million international visitors by 2021.
There were two breakout sessions – one on “Visa and Global Entry” and the other on “Implementing the Travel and Tourism Strategy.”
An overview of the U.S, economy was presented by Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, who noted that the administration has identified travel and tourism as a “bright spot,” as spelled out in a recent speech by Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.
“There was good dialogue on the ways the industry saw itself as facilitating job creation,” said Rethmeier, adding that there was “general optimism about the continuing decrease in visa wait times and improvements in welcoming international visitors as far as customs and immigration.”
The fact that a good working relationship now exists between the government and the travel industry was emphasized by Sperling, Rethmeirer noted.
Davidson: tourism a primary driver
A positive working relationship was also noted by Todd Davidson, chairman of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, during his remarks at the forum.
“I told the group that we can now say unapologetically that travel and tourism is a primary driver of this nation’s economy," Davidson, who is also CEO of Travel Oregon, told Travel Market Report.
“At one point it might have seemed like a public-private tug of war, but now that is gone and there is a mutually shared vision and purpose,” he said. “That is demonstrated by the fact that in markets like Brazil and China where the wait for a visa was more than 100 days, it is now less than a week.”
Another positive development is that the State Department is now distributing promotional materials to its embassies that enable them to show international travelers the ease of visiting the U.S., Davidson said.
Small businesses like travel agencies should recognize that Brand USA (the new marketing entity promoting international travel to the U.S.) “affords them an opportunity to leverage content and collateral – whether collectively, in an association or individually,” Davidson said.
“Going forward, there is a heightened sense of collaboration – both within the industry as well as in public-private relationships that will only become more important.”
Call to action
In a post-forum letter to industry members, Rossi Ralenkotter, chairman of the U.S. Travel Association, urged them to “take action.”
“Please continue to do your part to spread the word about our industry's continued success,” said Ralenkotter, who is also CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “Engage with the Power of Travel Coalition on the need for expansion of the Visa Waiver Program, Global Entry and PreCheck. U.S. Travel will continue to do its part in Washington, D.C., and keep the industry informed and united.”
The forum drew more than 40 representatives from the travel industry, according to Rethmeier, who said the four-hour meeting began with an economic briefing by the Department of Commerce on the contributions of the travel industry to the jobs market.
That was followed by a panel on the positive news coming out of growing markets like Brazil and China and the reduction in waiting times to obtain visas in those countries.
Forum participants on the government side, in addition to Sperling, included Rebecca Blank, acting secretary, Department of Commerce; Ken Salazar, secretary, Department of Interior, and representatives from the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Management and Budget.
Representatives on the industry side, along with Davidson and Ralenkotter, included Arne Sorenson, CEO of Marriott International.