U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow delivered a state of the travel industry address at the National Press Club on Wednesday morning, where he looked back at the triumphs and challenges facing the industry and outlined his vision for the future of American travel.
“Looking ahead, 2020 marks the dawn of a new decade. So, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the state of the travel industry: How far we’ve come over the last 10 years, where we stand today, and the opportunities and challenges that will shape our industry during the coming decade,” said Dow.
Dow opened his address by mentioning the impact of the coronavirus, and assuring those listening that this crisis won’t leave a lasting impact on the industry in the long term. “While visitation from China will be temporarily affected, all of the current expert advice indicates that business and leisure travel in the U.S. can and should continue as normal,” said Dow. “Previous events tell us that travel is quick to rebound after health-related downturns. We’ll continue monitoring and ensure our industry is informed at critical moments.”
He also took a look back over the last decade and remarked at the industry’s revival following what he referred to as the “Lost Decade,” the period following September 11th that left a big impact on the U.S. travel market. “We had endured a series of unprecedented challenges that undermined travel, limited our ability to expand, and threatened America’s travel leadership. We had lost 31% of our global travel market share. Back then few, if any, would have predicted we were on the verge of the greatest travel boom in history.”
Dow continued: “Any way you cut it, the past 10 years have been the Comeback Decade for the travel industry, a decade defined by rising growth, surging prosperity and escalating influence.”
Over the last decade, American travelers took more than 21 billion domestic trips, an increase of 10% over the decade before. The U.S. also welcomed 724 million international visitors in the last 10 years, an increase of 50%.
Dow also shared projections of tourism and travel numbers for 2020 and beyond. “Based on our latest projections for 2020, we expect domestic travel will grow by 1.4% this year, with domestic leisure growing faster than domestic business travel. International inbound travel will increase by a modest 2%, amid global headwinds, such as a slowing global economy and a strong dollar.
“We must also focus on the future. Specifically, the future of travel mobility. We are in the midst of a revolution in how people get around. New travel modes and innovations are not the only forces shaping travel’s future. Both consumers and travel destinations are raising their expectations for our industry. And their biggest expectation is that we grow responsibly and sustainably.”
Despite a series of potential hurdles for the travel industry, from public health emergencies and ecological disasters, to trade tensions and civil unrest, Dow reaffirmed that the industry is in a strong position to expand and grow in the coming years, and revealed his organization’s three major priorities in expanding and strengthening the industry.
- Promoting travel through trade
“Every dollar spent by an international visitor on a hotel, meal, rental car, or airplane ticket counts as a U.S. export,” said Dow. “Our industry’s export power has earned us a seat at the table during trade negotiations — and we intend to use it. We will take a leading role in helping U.S. officials secure more agreements with more countries that open more markets to the U.S.”
Dow believes the U.S. can better promote travel through trade by elevating the role of travel as a vital U.S. export, and ensuring that travel industry representatives always have a seat at the table for crucial trade negotiations with Japan, the UK, the EU, China and other large global travel markets.
“In 2018, international travelers spent $256 billion when visiting the U.S. – generating a trade surplus of $69 billion … Key policies that prioritize travel should be baked into every trade agreement. That list includes: Eliminating barriers to business travel; agreeing not to politicize travel warnings and advisories; requiring our trade partners to meet the highest standards of travel security; and eliminating tariffs that raise costs for travel businesses.”
- Enhancing security while simplifying travel
“For years, we have pursued the vision of friction-free travel. When it comes to air travel security, that vision is within reach,” said Dow.
By leveraging biometric data and technological innovations, Dow envisions a future where travelers can seamlessly book a flight, arrive at the airport, and board their plane with minimal waiting and security checks.
“Imagine arriving at an airport and walking straight to your seat on the plane. No winding through security lines. No pulling out IDs or showing tickets. No taking off shoes and belts or worrying about how many ounces of toothpaste you have,” said Dow. “That’s the promise of biometric identification.”
He also brought up the upcoming REAL ID act deadline, and recommended making some changes to the program’s implementation to ensure a smooth introduction.
“Immediately prior to the launch of an education campaign late last year, we identified that an estimated 99 million Americans will not be able to fly as of Oct. 1, 2020, because they don’t have an ID that meets the new federal standards,” said Dow.
“Hoping that 99 million people will trudge down to the DMV for a new ID is no solution. Instead, let’s adopt a few common-sense reforms to the REAL ID Act, like allowing people to start the process online, rather than in-line at the DMV, and approving travelers for take-off who are already enrolled in programs with even higher background requirements than REAL ID, like PreCheck and Global Entry.”
- Spurring pro-travel commerce
“Travel and commerce are inextricably linked,” said Dow. “Each one drives the other. When the economy is strong, travel grows. Travel is the front door to economic development. When travel is strong, economic growth rises across every state and every community in the country.”
Dow advocated for amending the tax code for travel businesses to make them more consistent and less confusing. “We need to make the rules clearer and more consistent. So, let’s fix the tax code so that legitimate business activities are treated fairly, equally and consistently.”
He also spoke about the importance of investing in American infrastructure projects nation-wide, as well as focusing on protecting and improving access to America’s national parks.
“We need to make long-overdue investments in America’s airports, roads, rail system and other assets that encourage travel. That includes clearing the backlog of needed investment in America’s national parks,” said Dow. “While no one can improve on the monumental, God-given beauty of these natural wonders, we can and should find the resources to make our parks more enjoyable to visit.”
He also touted new advances in the future of travel mobility in the works for the coming years, including the Virgin Hyperloop One, which when complete, will be able to move passengers at 600 mph, have advanced self-driving vehicles that can be summoned on demand, and a host of new sustainable electric vehicles.
Primarily, Dow said, the industry must have its sights set beyond the horizon and focus on advancing priorities that will endure for years to come.
“With the right policies in place, travel can continue to deliver these benefits, even as we expand travel’s reach into new markets, deliver on the vision of seamless travel, unleash the future of mobility and lead responsibly.”