In an effort to boost incoming tourism to the U.S. on the heels of two consecutive years of decline in its overall global share, a handful of trade associations have collaborated to launch the Visit U.S. Coalition.
Founding members of the Visit U.S. Coalition include the American Hotel & Lodging Association; the Asian American Hotel Owners Association; the American Gaming Association; and the U.S. Travel Association, among others.
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In the coming weeks, the Visit U.S. Coalition will advance policy recommendations that support its shared objectives with the Trump administration. In a conference call with the media yesterday, Roger Dow, President, the U.S. Travel Association, underscored the newly formed group’s mission.
“Our goal is to partner with the President to grow travel and achieve his economic goals, namely producing 3 percent GDP growth or more,” he said, further adding that the country’s current international travel share represents a “pressing challenge.”
Dow further noted. “Our goal is to make America the most secure and most visited Country in the world and we can do both. Our focus will be on research, messaging and advocacy. The administration’s operating principle must be that America is closed to terror and open for business.”
According to research by the U.S. Travel Association, while global travel volume increased 7.9 percent from 2015 to 2017, the U.S. slice of that growing pie fell from 13.6 percent to 11.9 percent in the same period. The U.S. was one of only two destinations, along with Turkey, in the top dozen global markets to see a decline in long-haul inbound travel since 2015 as it experienced a dip of 6 percent.
According to the Visit U.S. Coalition, just maintaining its 2015 market share would have given the U.S. in 2017 some 7.4 million more international visitors, more than $32 billion in additional spending and 100,000 additional jobs.
Nevertheless, Dow believes there is reason for optimism. “The fact is to cash in on those 100,000 jobs doesn’t require a massive influx of new capital. The infrastructure is in place, America’s world-class destinations are ready to welcome the world so let’s go after those jobs,” he said.
Katherine Lugar, President and CEO of AH&LA, weighed in on behalf of hospitality. “AH&LA is excited to combine efforts to bolster travel to the U.S., supporting businesses large and small in boosting our economy. From small and independent hotels to the global hotel brands we know and love the hotel industry is a major economic driver in communities across the United States,” she stated.
Lugar elaborated on the opportunity by noting that in its peak in 2015 international travelers to the U.S. spent nearly $250 billion. “That’s why we are so concerned with the downward trend in international visitors to the U.S.,” she said, adding, “nowhere is this decline more evident than in our gateway cities.”
As an example, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, international arrivals for the first 7 months of 2017 were down in 12 of the top 15 points of entry compared to the previous year. New York, specifically, saw a 21 percent decline in international arrivals, while Atlanta and Dallas experienced double-digit declines as well. In addition, Los Angeles, Miami and Washington also saw significant drops.
Lugar underscored the importance of the efforts of the Visit U.S. Coalition.
“Travel and tourism is our country’s second largest export and we can’t afford to see it lose ground to other countries. We’re committed to working with the administration to send an unequivocal message to international travelers that we want them to come here. As a part of that we’re asking the administration to support Brand USA and to partner with us to promote and grow travel to the U.S. by reminding the world we are open for business. We can do that while keeping our security strong and our borders safe,” she noted.
Dow, for his part, was quick to point out that the problem is not necessarily attributable to President Trump as many have suggested. “The inclination of many is to solely blame the current administration for the decline in international market share. The fact is the administration inherited this downward trajectory; the numbers have been falling since 2015. Travel can transcend politics and the reasons for this problem are complex,” he stressed.
Dow was further asked about the impact of the controversial Travel Ban, which he also noted was put in place well after the decline started. “The story became that the President was aiming at travelers. In actuality the aim was security risks. When you talk about the rhetoric, I have to say it’s not helpful, but the bottom line is this isn’t about rhetoric, it’s about policy, about jobs, and about the economy,” he said.
Dow also refuted the notion that gun violence could be deterring international travel. “We’ve not heard that concern…We don’t hear that as a loud message,” he noted.
He did, however, offer some explanations for the decline, citing the strong U.S. dollar, particularly when compared to some weak international economies, such as Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and parts of Europe. Dow also referenced a proliferation of low-cost airlines which have resulted in low cost flights to other destinations, as well as some of the aforementioned rhetoric. “It’s something that’s easily solvable,” he asserted.
Dow further explained the impact of the strong dollar and the importance of promoting the U.S as a destination. “The world is poised to come here there is no question about it. We’ve got all the pieces the people want. We’re not hiding behind the strong dollar, it’s been a fact. But I will also say the constant lack of ‘we want you to come here, we invite you come to here and America is secure,’ the lack of that message being loud and strong has had its effect. I think that this is very doable to turn around. Those dollars in whatever currencies are improving and we need to get our share. In the global economy travel is up 8 percent and we’re not getting our piece of it,” he concluded.