International travel to US target of new lobbying group
International travel to US target of new lobbying group
17 JANUARY 2018 9:40 AM

The Visit U.S. Coalition, a joint group including the U.S. Travel Association, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was announced Tuesday with the stated goal of increasing the U.S.’ share of international travel.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—The U.S. Travel Association, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, and the Asian American Hotel Owners Association are joining forces with a host of other travel- and business-related interest groups to pool their lobbying power and push for governmental change under the banner of a new joint organization.

The newly minted Visit U.S. Coalition was announced Tuesday with the promise that the organization will push both Congress and the administration of President Donald Trump for changes leaders believe will help boost the country’s share of international travel.

Here are some of the highlights from the coalition’s initial announcement.

1. The U.S. is losing share in a growing market
The coalition was created because of a troubling trend in global travel. Even as the number of international travelers grows, the U.S. is seeing a decrease in its share of those travelers, according to U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow.

At its peak in 2015, the U.S. captured 13.6% of global long-haul travel, according to data provided by the Visit U.S. Coalition. That number dropped to 12.9% in 2016 and then 11.9% in 2017—the lowest since 2010. Dow noted the overall number of international travel increased 7.9% during that period of decline for the U.S.

Dow said it’s important for the coalition and the U.S. government to do what they can to reverse this trend in order to avoid a repeat of the so-called “lost decade” of travel that occurred after 9/11.

“America isn’t winning when we’re falling behind our global competitors,” he said. “Our goal is to be the most secure and most visited country in the world.”

2. International travel amounts to big-dollar figures
Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of AHLA, said it’s important to note just how much international travelers to the U.S. actually spend, while noting the hotel industry is “a major economic driver in communities across the U.S.”

“Stats show overseas travelers spend about $4,400 (during a visit),” she said. “And in 2015, they spent nearly $250 billion. That’s why we’re so concerned about the downward trend.”

Dow noted the two-year drop in share for the U.S. equates to roughly $32.2 billion in lost spending, or the equivalent of 100,000 jobs.

“And the fact is, to cash in on those 100,000 jobs doesn’t require new capital,” he said. “The infrastructure is in place.”

3. It’s a matter of rhetoric and policy
Dow and other members of the coalition were asked repeatedly what they think the underlying issue is that is driving down international interest in travel to the U.S.

Dow pointed to multiple issues, but he noted a particularly strong dollar along with political rhetoric that travelers aren’t as welcome or wanted are big contributors. Dow said the efforts by the Trump administration to tighten border security can happen while also letting the world know the U.S. is “closed to terror but open for business.”

He said getting the right messaging out could come down to investment in Brand USA.

Dow said after putting out the right message to the rest of the world, the government needs to make investments to make the process of traveling to the U.S. simpler and faster.

“Policies need to make sure we have the right people and technology in visa issuance,” he said. “We need to make sure when you get here you don’t stand in line for two to three hours, so we need the right customs and border patrol people.”

4. The coalition wants to make travel a priority
Dow said the timing of the announcement of the coalition was not coincidental and member organizations see an opportunity now that the White House and Congress have wrapped up their efforts around tax reform.

Dow said it’s important to make travel investment and improvements the next item on the docket. He noted the group has already made contact with several department heads and other key figures in the administration.

“The administration was quite distracted with tax reform and health care,” he said. “Now we think the timing is right. There’s an opportunity to put the pedal to the metal.”

5. The coalition sees wide support in business community
In addition to the organizations already mentioned, the full membership of the coalition includes the American Gaming Association, the American Society of Association Executives, the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, the National Restaurant Association, National Retail Federation and the Society of Independent Show Organizers.

Neil Bradley, EVP and chief policy officer for The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is broadly focused on businesses across the U.S. economy, said there are several economic benefits of an interest in inbound international travel beyond the money spent by travelers. He said retail and manufacturing sectors would also benefit greatly, and positive travel experiences make international businesspeople more eager to do deals in the U.S.

“We miss opportunities when we lose our share of international tourism,” he said.

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