Customs and Border Protection's directive this month to
reassign agents from some U.S. airports to the Mexican border is adding to
concerns about headwinds for inbound travel.
Tori Barnes, the U.S. Travel Association's executive vice
president for public affairs and policy, urged Customs and Border Protection to
keep entry points "appropriately staffed and effectively secured,"
warning that "travel is trade, and the U.S. economy and jobs base enjoy
many billions of dollars in beneficial impact from legitimate international
business and leisure visitors to the United States."
The directive could become another factor contributing to
what U.S. Travel has said is the nation's growing loss of share of the global
long-haul travel market and another way that government is hurting rather than
facilitating inbound travel.
Moderating a panel at the World Travel & Tourism Council's
Global Summit in Spain earlier this month, U.S. Travel CEO Roger Dow said
travel to other countries was growing "at a much more rapid pace" than
to the U.S. He also noted that in 2013 the U.S. had a 13.7% share of the global
travel market, which fell to 11.7% last year.
"Two percent might not sound like a big deal, but that
means 14 million travelers we could or should have had and 120,000 U.S. jobs,"
Visit California CEO Caroline Beteta was one of several
panelists who advocated for the importance of Brand USA. Congress is tasked
with reauthorizing and restoring funding to the public-private marketing arm,
which expires in 2020.
"Brand USA is critically important, even for us,"
she said referring to California, which has the nation's largest tourism
marketing budget. "Nobody shows up at a party they are not invited to, and
it's the same for our inbound international guests."
Issues surrounding the political rhetoric that has come from
the Trump administration, which at times has taken on a nationalist tone, was
"I do think the political rhetoric hurts," said
Alex Zozaya, CEO of Apple Leisure Group. He also said the strong dollar was
having an impact on inbound travel, an assertion with which other panelists
"The dollar has had a massive impact," said Amanda
Hills, president of Hills Balfour, a U.K.-based travel public relations agency.
"Ten years ago, shopping was the No. 1 reason people went to the U.S."
However, Hills also said that she does not think U.S.
politics has had any measurable impact from what she's heard.
"I firmly believe that tourism transcends politics,"
she said. "People are going there to see the people and the culture.
America markets itself on the welcome."
The panelists all seemed to agree that the U.S. could help
visitation by easing visa policies. U.S. Travel has long been advocating that
more countries be added to the Visa Waiver Program, including Brazil, Israel
and Poland. Citing the success of South Korea, which went from 450,000 visitors
to 800,000 in one year after being added to the program, Dow said, "there'd
be another million Brazilians overnight," if that country was added.
"With travel, when you hit a barrier, it goes somewhere
else," he said. "Every interaction has to be as smooth and seamless
Beteta agreed, saying that California benefitted greatly
from South Korea's inclusion, with visitors from there increasing by 50% "overnight."
"I couldn't spend $20 million in South Korea and get
that kind of bounce," she said. "It's important that we look at
government as a partner and a channel."