The latest numbers measuring the health of the US travel market are pause for concern.
According to Roger Dow, president and CEO of the US Travel Association, America’s share of the global travel market dropped from 13.7 percent in 2015 to 11.7 percent in 2018.
Dow spoke about the state of the travel industry in the US at the annual IPW travel show, held June 1-5 in Anaheim, Calif. IPW gathers travel professionals—including US destinations, hotels and attractions, as well as international tour operators, buyers and wholesalers from around the world to promote travel to the US.
“IPW will generate $5.5 billion in direct travel spending in the United States over the next three years,” Dow said. “That’s revised upward from the $4.7 billion we have reported over the past few years.” He added that his remarks at last year’s IPW on the US losing international travel market share are still valid.
“Just this past Friday, the US Department of Commerce put out figures showing that international travel to the US grew 3.5 percent last year,” he stated. “That might sound pretty good, but not when you consider that globally, long-haul travel grew by seven percent. What that means is that the US is still falling behind in the competition to attract international visitors. That’s the bad news. And it means we have work to do.”
Dow and other US Travel corporate member CEOs met President Trump last fall to discuss the importance of travel to the US economy and workforce, including how travel helps lower the country’s overall trade deficit.
“I know a lot of people want to lay this at the feet of our president,” Dow said. “But we’ve come a long way helping the administration appreciate travel as a crucial US export and job creator. We certainly don’t think the president says often enough that he wants healthy numbers of visitors to come to the US. But there is an opening to talk to this administration about policies that help with visitation. And we have done just that.”
Dow said the US Travel Association has been working with President Trump to attempt to build support for Brand USA, the destination marketing organization for the US, which is up for reauthorization. “We discussed with the president the value of Brand USA and why it must be reauthorized this year.”
Brand USA put out a ROI study a few weeks ago showing how valuable the program is to promoting America to the world.
“The good news is, there is a lot of bipartisan support in Congress for Brand USA’s reauthorization. Last month, a letter in support of Brand USA received nearly 50 signatures from senators on both sides of the political aisle, and a similar letter will soon be circulating in the House of Representatives. US Travel, along with our partners in the Visit US Coalition, is helping with this effort, which will further grow the strong support Brand USA already has in Washington.”
Part of the issue is the toll some of the administration’s policies are having including long visa wait times.
“Travelers to the US from all over the world can be discouraged if they encounter lengthy visa wait times,” said Elliott L. Ferguson, II, Destination DC president and CEO, and chair of US Travel. “We’ve had several instances in DC where key speakers at meetings were denied entry or had visa delays, which caused them to skip the conference. I also recently got back from Germany and witnessed the excessively long customs lines. These kinds of experiences take a toll. And even a small decline in visitation exacts a cost to the U.S. economy.”
According to Ferguson, they have been working with officials in Washington to cut down on wait times and to make the visa system more efficient and less burdensome.
Expanding the Visa Waiver Program
Dow also said he discussed with President Trump about expanding the Visa Waiver Program to include even more qualified countries. Currently Poland and Israel are being considered. A few months ago, the JOLT Act of 2019 was introduced in Congress to help bring these countries into the VWP fold. The bill would also rename the Visa Waiver Program to the Secure Travel Partnership.
Dow said, “I’m pleased to report that the president was eager to hear what we had to say and was receptive to the message that travel growth can be achieved without compromising security.”