Arnie Weissmann
Arnie Weissmann

National Travel and Tourism Week is underway, and Wednesday, May 6, is National Travel Advisor Day.

The first full week in May also celebrates teachers, hoagies, intimate apparel (#underfashion) and candied orange peel. Teachers aside, these are, of course, industry-launched holidays, initiatives to lure the attention of the press or, better yet, trend in social media.

In this specialized corner of marketing, the competition is fierce, but I would imagine that more than one journalist will take note of National Travel and Tourism Week, if only for the irony of there being, perhaps for the first time in recorded history, almost no travel and tourism during National Travel and Tourism Week.

All of these promotional days and weeks have a dual purpose. One faces outward, the other in. Putting your industry on the calendar is as much an intramural bonding exercise as a vehicle to inspire others to recognize and celebrate the importance of what you do.

And, more than in most years, elements within the travel ecosystem are in need of demonstrations of mutual support. National Travel Advisor Day, in particular, brought out a muscular display of encouragement from suppliers that, in aggregate, suggests they fully recognize the important role advisors will play in their recovery once the crisis ends. The agency distribution channel represents the highest-margin business that can be booked and will be more important than ever to suppliers dreading the heavy discounting that will likely dominate a post-Covid environment.

On one hand, the coronavirus has revealed the industry's fragility, but it has also highlighted how interdependent the components of the travel industry are. In fact, agents might think about organizing a Supplier Appreciation Day in return.

U.S. Travel highlighted National Travel and Tourism Week by creating a 12-hour Virtual Road Trip along Twitter's digital thoroughfares. It, like so many other travel marketing initiatives these past seven weeks, leaned on the belief that absence truly does make the heart grow fonder. From 9 a.m. Eastern time to 6 p.m. Pacific Tuesday, May 5, states (and Washington, D.C.) took turns shining a spotlight on their local cuisine, attractions, small businesses and even souvenirs.

U.S. Travel is in an interesting position, simultaneously promoting the upbeat spirit of tourism to the public while accurately portraying its desperate position in the halls of Congress. The two accounts are each honest narratives that, together, explain the need for fiscally healthy and serious-minded businesses to create or facilitate enriching, fun experiences. It is travel's yin yang.

The focus on the "fun" part of the equation used to be a barrier in getting policymakers to understand the economic sobriety and importance of the travel industry. U.S. Travel CEO Roger Dow and his team have done a remarkable job of explaining it in terms of employment, tax collection, balance of trade and knock-on benefits. Some states, such as Colorado, have also become savvy about positioning travel to their broader economy during National Travel and Tourism Week. In fact, the current disrupted state of the industry and its impact on the broader economy may well serve as poignant proof points in future lobbying efforts.

But it may also be hard to separate those proof points from the tangled and costly economic fallout all industrial sectors are enduring. We have all, by silent and mutual agreement, quite reasonably decided not to ponder the ultimate consequences of the steps we're taking to secure our survival.

Impact of a multitrillion-dollar bailout on national debt? Can't be helped. High interest loans? Better than closing shop.

And some of these steps are travel-industry specific and could impact future goodwill and profitability. Change a refund policy after accepting a booking? We'll give bonus credits and hope they understand. Discount our rates, knowing it may take years to recover? Well, I'm only as strong as my weakest competitor.

For the moment, we've all adopted Scarlett O'Hara's philosophy as expressed in "Gone With the Wind": I'll think about it tomorrow.

That's generally not a great approach to running an economy or a business, though our leaders have a great deal of experience and skill at kicking budgetary cans down the road. Uncertainty complicates everything; we'll need to make "we're all in this together" more than a slogan to get out of the hole we're digging together.

So, what will the National Travel and Tourism Weeks of tomorrow look like? Ultimately -- by 2022, I hope -- not so different from the one in 2019.

Why? Because what's different about travel and tourism compared with other industries -- the candied orange peel trade, for instance -- is the multitude of ways that our customers are true partners in our products.

There would be no travel industry without our clients' and guests' capacity to be awed by diverse landscapes, to connect with unfamiliar cultures, to be comforted by great service and to feel familial bonds strengthened through shared experiences.

And despite the fog of uncertainty that hinders our view forward, it's a safe bet that, as long as humans are permitted to roam the earth, that will never change.


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