The global travel industry is facing its share of challenges, but the overall future looks bright. Those were the notes struck by U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow during his "State of the Travel Industry" address on Feb. 5, in which he outlined priorities for the industry from both a business and policy perspective.
Delivering his comments at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Dow began by mentioning the issue that is on most industry members' minds: the coronavirus outbreak and its impact on global travel. He stressed that while visitation from China will be affected, "all of the current expert advice indicates that business and leisure travel in the U.S. can and should continue as normal. 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."
From there, Dow pivoted to focus on the growth the industry had seen in the past decade, including the creation of 1.7 million American jobs, a 50 percent increase in international visitors and a 62 percent rise in overall travel spending.
While forecasting that travel spending would top $1.1 trillion in 2020, Dow highlighted a number of stories of travel industry entrepreneurs, such as the creators of CityPASS, Chicago's First Lady Cruises and New Orleans tour company Bespoke Experiences.
The U.S. Travel Association leaders stressed legislative achievements over the past year — including Brand USA's seven-year reauthorization and the enactment of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement — and the next steps that must be taken in the coming years.
"In the coming year, the U.S. expects to negotiate trade deals with the EU, the UK, Japan and China — some of the largest markets for overseas visitors to our country," said Dow. "To achieve America's trade goals of boosting growth, raising exports and closing our trade deficit, travel must be on the agenda."
On the importance of security in the coming years, Dow pointed to the promise of technological innovations such as biometric identification, as well as the need for an expanded Visa Waiver Program that would include Brazil and Israel. He also stressed the importance of making international travelers feel welcome in the United States.
With respect to President Donald Trump's recent expansion of the travel ban to include six additional countries, Dow emphasized that the latest policy change concerns would-be residents, as opposed to visitors. While related, it's more about immigration than travel. That said, "it's very important to strike a balance between being secure and having trade," added Dow.
In addition to promoting travel through trade and enhancing security, the third priority outlined by Dow was "spurring pro-travel commerce." This includes greater investment in infrastructure and U.S. national parks, as well as simplifying the tax code to incentivize travel and revise what he described as the current mix of confusing loopholes.
"We need to make the rules clearer and more consistent," said Dow. "So let's fix the tax code so that legitimate business activities are treated fairly, equally and consistently."
He concluded with a discussion of the innovations happening around travel mobility and sustainable travel, including advances in self-driving and electric vehicles, sustainable design and purpose-driven travel.
"With the right policies in place," he noted, "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."