Travel Trends: "Tourism Flexes Muscle" by Lakshman Ratnapala

The travel and tourism industry claims that as a major generator of foreign income and local jobs, it is a driver of national economies.  Yet, it is generally shy of flexing its political muscle to engage lawmakers in framing economic policies or social legislation.  There are, however, a few exceptions such as the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau which calls on citizens to support selected ballot initiatives in City elections. Now, the U.S. Travel Association has launched a cutting edge effort to engage the travel industry employees in the U.S. to make their voices heard in upcoming national elections.

“As government plays an increasingly active role in our business, it’s critical that our employees play a more active role in governance” says Roger Dow, President and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.  “Our industry must become a force in all elements of the political process, not just when times are tough or when we need something from policymakers.  Our 10 million employees can be tremendous allies to those who recognize the power of travel to create jobs, fund essential services and stimulate local economies”.

Under the brand of its newly formed “Power of Travel Coalition“, the U.S.T.A has asked more than 150 election candidates to submit answers to three questions chosen by travel industry employees.  The candidates’ responses in writing or by video will be posted on the Coalition’s Virtual Travel Town Hall webpage , prior to the elections, in November.

This initiative provides Congressional election candidates with the opportunity to support one in nine American workers in an industry that is 2.5 times the auto industry and a top ten employer in nearly every U.S. State. U.S. Travel is partnering with major hotel chains, attractions, convention and visitor bureaus, travel related associations and others to ensure the most significant electoral participation in the travel industry’s history.

The effort comes on the heels of more than 400,000 lost travel industry jobs since 2008 and one of the most active periods for the travel industry in Washington, including public policies related to the BP oil spill, the discouragement of corporate meetings and events, the H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak and enactment of the Travel Promotion Act, the first-ever program to market the United States abroad.

Meanwhile, following the new Travel Promotion Act becoming law in March, the U.S. has begun collecting a $10 fee from select international visitors to fund up to 50 percent of America’s promotional activities.

According to Oxford Economics, the inability of the U.S. to simply keep pace with average growth in international long-haul travel over the past decade has cost the economy an estimated $509 billion in total spending and 441,000 American jobs.  In addition, the country forfeited an estimated $32 billion in direct tax receipts over the same period.  The average overseas visitor spends in excess of $4,000 when they visit the United States. Oxford Economics estimates that a well-executed promotion program will attract 1.6 million new international visitors to the U.S. annually and create $4 billion in new spending each year.

— Lakshman Ratnapala
BATW International Consultant


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