The U.S. Travel Association's 2022 State of the Industry Address, delivered via webcast today from the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., became, in part, a grateful sendoff for president and CEO Roger Dow, who will step down from the organization in July.
Tori Emerson Barnes, U.S. Travel’s executive vice president of public affairs and policy, outlined the progress the industry has made and described short-term objectives as well as a longer-term vision for the future. The organization has identified five areas that require immediate action by Congress and the Biden administration: workforce concerns; travel facilitation and security; the future of travel mobility; sustainability; and diversity, equity and inclusion.
Before handing the floor to Dow, Barnes invited Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line and national chair of U.S. Travel, to honor Dow’s 17-year leadership at the association.
“Roger has always possessed a unique ability to see the big picture,” said Duffy in her remarks. “He focuses on big ideas that take us to a better place in the future. That vision has led to a more cohesive travel industry, one that is dynamic and adaptive enough to handle the worst crises that we've seen in our lifetimes.…Because of Roger, we know the travel industry is better equipped to handle the challenges it will face and the many, many opportunities that lie ahead for all of us.”
“I truly didn't expect this to be my going away party,” said Dow as he took the stage. He credited U.S. Travel’s team and members for their competence and dedication. “We're in a better position than we've ever been as an industry to work towards our future. We’ve never been more united as an industry.”
Industry Action Plan
Among the most pressing problems is staffing: More than 7 percent of the jobs in hospitality and leisure — 1.2 million positions — have not come back, said Dow. As an industry, he added, we should examine how we hire, recruit and retain talent. “We need to promote flexibility and work-life balance, and show candidates that this is a phenomenal industry to work in.”
Another priority is to improve the travel experience, enhancing safety and efficiency through biometrics. “We're calling on the federal government to expand biometric entry and exit systems to all ports of entry,” said Dow. Bolstering trusted traveler programs and adequately staffing TSA checkpoints are also essential.
However, said Dow, “a seamless travel experience doesn't mean much if a large part of the world is unable to travel here. One of the biggest challenges is the excessive wait times of visa processing. In some markets the wait time is over one year — this is unacceptable. We are working with Congress and the administration to restore visa operations as quickly as possible.”
Plotting a Course Toward Future Growth
This is an important juncture for the travel industry, noted Tori Barnes. Among efforts to prepare for long-term growth, U.S. Travel launched The Future of Travel Mobility last October in Washington, D.C. The event brought together global leaders in travel, transportation and technology with government officials, policy influencers and the media to contemplate the critical intersection of travel technology and transportation. “These are conversations that we not only need to have, but also key areas where we must have a voice,” said Barnes. “These discussions are directly impacting how people will travel, and they demand our leadership in a rapidly evolving world.”
Sustainability also is a clear priority. “Expanding electric vehicle infrastructure is the only way to make travel in the United States more sustainable,” said Barnes. The infrastructure bill that was signed into law last fall included $7.5 billion to deploy and expand electric vehicle infrastructure. The adoption of sustainable aviation fuels is another critical agenda item.
DEI initatives will be furthered through a new partnership with Tourism Diversity Matters, a coalition of industry leaders that is working to increase diversity across all sectors of travel, including in leadership positions. Other, similar programs are also underway.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” said Barnes. “But we believe in our vision and the collective strength of this industry. Together I know that we will accomplish truly incredible things in the months and the years to come."
Dow's Next Chapter in the Travel Industry
Dow has half a year remaining in his tenure with U.S. Travel. "I really look forward to welcoming a new leader to continue our good work and to take the industry to its next level," he said. "But that day is a long six months away. Until then my total focus is going to be on the association's critical work ahead. Travel is a coiled spring, and it cannot and will not be contained.”
As for his future, “I’m definitely not saying goodbye," Dow noted. "I intend to spend the focus of my energy in the coming years on what I think is the industry's biggest challenge. And you'll be hearing more about that in the months ahead.”