A number of agencies and industry stakeholders provided updates on policies to grow and strengthen travel.
The U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board (TTAB) held its July meeting Tuesday, during which Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and other administration officials provided the board with updates on travel-related policies that will help the U.S. achieve its goal of 116 million annual international visitors and $445 billion in annual travel spending by 2028.
Secretary Ross opened the meeting by acknowledging how travel and tourism is “essential to the economy,” and reaffirmed his department’s embrace of the national visitation goal.
“We’re doing everything in our power to support the growth and vitality of your industry,” said Secretary Ross.
The meeting convened at a critical moment. America’s share of the global travel market is slipping, having fallen from 13.7% in 2015 to its current 11.7%—a decline that represents a difference of 14 million visitors, a loss of $59 billion in spending and 120,000 American jobs. The TTAB’s policy proposals—many of which mirror those of U.S. Travel and the Visit U.S. Coalition—can help reverse this troubling trend and allow the U.S. to achieve its international visitation goal.
Some key updates on several travel-related policies:
U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)
The U.S. Department of Transportation is continuing its effort to protect and expand air service to the U.S., including through Open Skies aviation agreements. The administration recently signed an Open Skies agreement with Argentina, and reported positive signs in negotiations with Japan to expand its six daily routes to the U.S. from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to 18 daily routes.
DOT also discussed its pre-negotiated Open Skies agreement with the U.K., should a hard Brexit take place by the October 31 deadline. The agreement would go further than the previous E.U. deal, as this new agreement would expand to cover all British overseas territories and protectorates. The U.K. is the largest overseas inbound market to the U.S., and this new deal will ensure there is no disruption to air service between our two countries.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security kicked off its readout by conveying the department’s commitment to facilitating and securing travel. DHS continues to explore how new technologies can improve security, and touted biometric screening as a tool that can greatly improve the traveler experience, all while enhancing security.
DHS also acknowledged the rapidly approaching deadline for REAL ID implementation and asked for the industry’s help in educating travelers. U.S. Travel will be rolling out an education engagement plan in the near term, as well as policy opportunities to help mitigate the potential negative impacts that travelers may face.
U.S. Department of State (State)
State Department officials recently traveled to Poland to observe that country’s progress on meeting Visa Waiver Program (VWP) requirements. The administration is eager to add more countries to the program, and cited Croatia as another country interested in joining the VWP.
State also gave an update on visa processing times: worldwide demand for visas is down for the third year in a row, but there are some indications that the slide may be leveling out.
“Global wait times around the world are not where we would like them to be,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Ed Ramotowski.
The department pointed to the 16-month hiring freeze as a reason for the staffing shortages that contributed to excessive wait times, and expects visa wait times to improve by the fall.
Aaron Wodin-Schwartz, vice president, public policy and public affairs for Brand USA, spoke on behalf of the destination marketing organization and said he was encouraged by the administration’s embrace of the TTAB’s recommendations, which make several references to Brand USA’s reauthorization. Tricia Primrose, global chief communications and public affairs officer for Marriott International, lauded Brand USA as “one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal” for increasing international visitation.
In the same afternoon, a bill to reauthorize Brand USA was introduced in the Senate.
World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)
Secretary Ross asked the board to provide its opinions on the U.S. possibly rejoining the World Tourism Organization, the United Nations agency responsible for promoting global, sustainable tourism. The secretary is seeking a list of pros and cons of joining the UNWTO, and would like ideas about how the U.S. can leverage UNWTO membership to achieve the goals outlined in the TTAB recommendations.
U.S. Travel is encouraged by the administration’s exploration of rejoining the UNWTO, as it shows the administration has a clear interest in prioritizing travel and tourism. The TTAB and other industry stakeholders were invited to give the administration feedback on the issue by August 23, the tentative date for the next TTAB meeting.
U.S. Travel commends Secretary Ross and the Commerce Department for prioritizing the growth of the travel industry and embracing the TTAB’s recommendations, and stands ready to assist and advise the TTAB, the Commerce Department, the administration, and Congress in any way possible to advance our shared goals and secure positive outcomes for the travel community.