Tori Barnes, the U.S. Travel Association's senior vice president for government relations, joined six CEOs of companies that are members of the Visit U.S. Coalition to meet with members of Congress on Capitol Hill, just days after the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) upheld the Trump administration's travel ban. News editor Johanna Jainchill spoke to Barnes about her priorities six months into the job, which she took after spending 14 years with General Motors.
Q: Is the coalition concerned about the message being sent to the world about coming here as a result of the travel ban and recent images of family separation?
A: Of course. For 18 months the entire discussion about the administration's security policies has been about who can't come to America; now that SCOTUS has ruled, it is time for the discussion to be about who can come to America. Security is paramount, but the primary message needs to be one of welcome to the 99.9% of travelers the U.S. wants here more than ever. We hope the administration starts that discussion by making it clear that legitimate travelers remain welcome, even as security remains a priority.
Q: What were the main themes of the coalition's meetings?
A: The importance of regrowing the U.S. share of international travel and the need to reauthorize Brand USA this year. Members of both parties were very supportive and eager to be helpful. ... U.S. Travel is working hard to ensure that Congress understands the value in reauthorizing Brand USA, as they continue to be America's voice in an intensely competitive global travel market. As for the Coalition and U.S. Travel, our shared objective is to help policymakers understand the economic importance of travel and to make sure that the impact of travel is on their minds as they work to enact policy.
Q: With the Commerce Department's inbound travel numbers on hold, has U.S. Travel detected any evidence of a drop-off in travel or travel interest to the U.S. as a result of immigration policies?
A: The good news is that all of our best data says that visitation to the U.S. is still on the rise. However, our share of the global long-haul travel market is declining, and other countries are growing. That means the U.S. is getting a smaller slice of an economic sector that is among the best at growing jobs, the GDP and the U.S. economy.
Q: How have you made your mark on U.S. Travel's legislative agenda?
A: We are working on increasing our profile on the Hill and engaging aggressively both with the administration and on the Hill. I like inclusivity and communication and being out and about and really talking with folks. Our priority is to make things better for travel and travelers, so we are looking for every opportunity and every new face to be a champion for those issues. I've been having a lot of great conversations with members of Congress I've known in an automotive capacity for a really long time. But when you get down to talking to them about these issues as well, they want to be a champion for this industry and that's really exciting.
Q: You came from an industry people associate with good jobs. Is it a challenge to convey how many jobs travel creates?
A: It is interesting to get into this industry and understand that a lot of people don't place the same weight on service jobs. But I think that the more that we help them understand -- and these are some of the conversations we are having -- how huge and exponential the impact is throughout the economy, it resonates with more than just the traditional champions of travel. The numbers we used in the auto industry, 16 million plus jobs, indirect and direct, and travel and tourism, 15.6 million indirect and direct jobs, are very similar numbers. When you highlight that point for these for folks, they see that is really compelling.