Geoff Freeman this month became CEO of U.S. Travel, succeeding Roger Dow. For Freeman, it's a return to the organization he was COO of until 2013. He has since been the CEO of the American Gaming Association and of the Consumer Brands Association. News editor Johanna Jainchill spoke to Freeman at U.S. Travel's Future of Travel Mobility conference about what to learn from sports betting and why the industry doesn't always need Washington, D.C.
Q: What do you bring to this job from the gaming and consumer brands industry?
A: One, when I was in the gaming industry we knew across the board that brick-and-mortar expansion was limited. Where was our opportunity to grow as an industry? We focused on removing the ban on sports betting. You can't turn your TV on today and not see the result of that. That benefit goes not just to MGM and Caesars and the largest gaming entities, it has cascaded on down throughout the industry. We saw that in the consumer goods industry, as well, with supply chain issues. Focusing on issues that matter most to the largest players become a way of servicing the totality of the industry.
Two, while we are advocacy organizations at our core, and we're based in Washington for a reason, not every problem requires an advocacy-slash-policy solution. There are lots of times where you can solve problems in different ways. Maybe facilitating conversation between people in the industry.
Maybe creating opportunities for the industry to make tangible changes. I'll be looking for opportunities for us to work together. We don't need Washington. We don't need legislators in the state capitol. And when you look at the political environment that we find ourselves in today, finding other ways to solve problems is only going to become more important in the years ahead.
Q: Do you feel momentum in Washington to facilitate travel after seeing the impact of the pandemic?
A: There is a tendency at various points in time to take the travel industry for granted, to assume that people will just do it; "it just happens." It doesn't just happen. It takes hard work. It takes the work that people in this industry do every day, and it takes policymakers being partners in succeeding. We've got a strong case to build upon in terms of how travel is perceived. I still think we've got a lot of work to do to further cement the industry as indispensable.
There was not a whole lot of good that came out of the pandemic, but the one thing it should have done is help people realize what happens when you turn the lights off on travel. What happens when you shut this industry down -- at a local level, at a state level, at a national level. That the consequences are extraordinary. That should help to convert more and more of these policymakers into champions of sensible policies.
Q: As travel grows, so do concerns about sustainability. How much will U.S. Travel focus on having travel come back more responsibly?
A: Every company speaking at the conference has made [massive] sustainability commitments. Every destination that is represented here is looking at ways to incorporate sustainability into their business. When I was here 15 years ago, there was talk about sustainability, but none of us were sure whether the customer was willing to pay for it. If it was more than just words. Today, we're sure. We know they're willing to pay for it, we know they make decisions based on it, and we have to account for that. The industry is making great strides on that front. We can do more to document the steps the industry is taking to ensure that people are aware that the industry is their partner in promoting and ensuring a sustainable approach to travel.
We coined a phrase years ago about what U.S. Travel did that is as true today as it was then: U.S. Travel at its core is a champion of the traveler. That's who we fight for. When we reduce visa wait times, we're doing that on behalf of the traveler. When we create TSA PreCheck, when we make these sustainability commitments, we're doing it on behalf of the traveler. The more we're using the traveler as our North Star, the more likely we are to help this industry thrive in the years ahead.