The travel industry is facing a crisis as the nation neglects to improve infrastructure in and around U.S. airports, according to Roger Dow, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association (USTA).
Dow spoke during a conference in Washington D.C. yesterday titled Connecting America Through Travel.
The gathering was part of a USTA initiative to pressure the federal government into committing more resources to modernizing the country’s transportation infrastructure.
The initiative included the release of a new study called Thanksgiving in the Skies: A Look at the Future of Air Travel in the U.S.
Although the travel industry has a $2 trillion impact on the U.S. economy, “travelers don’t focus on that impact. They focus on their own experience – going door to door, getting to the airport, going through security, checking in, collecting bags and leaving the airport,” said Dow.
“When you look at the travel infrastructure in the U.S., we are woefully behind the rest of the world.”
According to Dow and other speakers, the U.S. will be damaged if the current situation continues as individual travelers and meeting groups seek alternatives that offer better logistics.
Many other cities and countries, “are ramping up their infrastructure at a phenomenal rate. As we approach the busiest day of the year for travel – the day before Thanksgiving – the gap between the busiest day of travel and the rest of the year is rapidly shrinking,” Dow said.
“Already, one in five airports is at a point where one day a week is like Thanksgiving. In the next five years, 24 of the top 30 airports will join that category – and the busiest airports will have days like the day before Thanksgiving more than one day a week every week.”
Growing demand for air travel
Joshua Schank, CEO of the nonprofit, Eno Center for Transportation, said demand for air travel is expected to increase while demand now exceeds capacity several times a day at many airports.
“For airports like LAX, the problem is not just with the airport but with getting there - aging tunnels and crowded access points,” Schank said.
The crisis is made worse by the growth in international travel to the U.S., Dow added. “We might hit 100 million inbound by 2018 which will make the situation worse and worse.”
Erik Hansen, USTA’s director of domestic policy, said that while it may be possible to divert traffic to other major airports or regional airports, “From an industry perspective people want to fly to a specific destination.”
“If you have a travel business, you want capacity at the airport near you. We need to solve the capacity issues where there is demand.”
Alternatives to air travel
The conference participants also discussed alternatives to air travel, including rail transportation.
“Intermodal connections must be strong – and there is low-hanging fruit like connections between airports and downtowns and between rail stations and other forms of transportation, said Donald Ludlow, principal in Cambridge Systematics, a transportation consulting firm.
“Congress is not allowing these changes to move forward,” according to Hansen. “While the rest of the world is speeding up, the U.S. Is slowing down.”
Dow cited huge political obstacles in the effort to improve airport infrastructure.
But “we were told the Travel Promotion Act would be impossible and we did that,” he said.
“And we also brought wait times down to get visas in many countries – so we can do these things.”