The election and travel’s big ask

The next administration, Senate and House will shape the future of travel. The industry’s leadership has a wish list.

TW illustration by Jenn Martins

TW illustration by Jenn Martins

TW illustration by Jenn Martins

On Nov. 3, voters will decide whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden will lead the U.S. into the next decade.

The winner will face an enormous challenge in leading the nation back from one of the worst crises in history.

“It’s a daunting task, and its success will be contingent on the revival of the travel industry,” said Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy for the U.S. Travel Association.

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U.S. Travel backs that up with data showing that the leisure and hospitality industry accounted for 11% of prepandemic employment in the U.S. but has suffered nearly 40% of all job losses, with more than half of the industry’s 15.8 million jobs lost. Research conducted by Tourism Economics shows that $360 billion, or $2 billion per day, has been drained from the economy as a result of decreased travel demand since March. 

We asked industry leaders to make a wish list of policies that will help in its recovery. With the U.S. economy so dependent on a travel and tourism revival, the next president will want to pay attention.

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Tori Emerson Barnes

Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy, U.S. Travel Association 

The situation is dire, but if the right strategies are put in place immediately, travel and tourism jobs can be restored more quickly. The broader travel industry believes there is great need for a larger, more comprehensive federal relief package, but we are asking — at the very least — for relief for small travel industry businesses. It’s imperative that such relief includes:

 An extension of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). 

 An expansion of PPP eligibility to include 501(c)(6) nonprofit and quasi-governmental destination marketing organizations. 

 A second round of loans to keep local businesses afloat and workers on the payroll.

Travel is not a red or blue issue. Travel’s impact is felt nationwide, in every pocket of America. Before the pandemic, travel jobs existed in every congressional district, driving the economies of large cities and small towns. It should be a top priority of all candidates to protect and restore valuable travel industry jobs, to the benefit of millions of hardworking Americans. 

Undoubtedly, the challenges facing the travel industry will be felt for months and years to come. Together, with Congress and the administration, we can work toward a better tomorrow and bring the U.S. travel industry back to strength and prosperity. 

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Stephanie Jones

Stephanie Jones, CEO, National Blacks in Travel & Tourism Collaborative (BTT)

It is my hope that whomever the president is on Nov. 4, he will make it a priority to immediately move forward to pass another stimulus package. This is imperative to provide much needed financial aid to small businesses, unemployed workers, families and the travel industry. 

Black travel advisors, tour operators, restaurants, museums and other small businesses that support tourism in their local destinations are struggling to sustain their businesses, and many have had to close their doors permanently. Another stimulus package may not stop the bleeding but can at least be a temporary Band-Aid to lessen the economic pain felt by small businesses and other industry stakeholders who have had to lay off workers. 

Prior to Covid-19, most Black-owned small businesses were faced with barriers to access capital for business startup and growth. The red tape and amount of paperwork required by local governments and the Small Business Association (SBA) to access financing has long been a barrier for both existing businesses and those who may have considered entrepreneurship as a pathway toward the American Dream. BTT favors any bill that helps to remove barriers and level the playing field for Black-owned businesses. The Hospitality and Commerce Job Recovery Act of 2020, a bipartisan bill, was introduced to provide targeted economic relief for struggling travel-related businesses. It is our hope that this bill includes relief for microbusinesses located in underrepresented communities throughout the U.S. 

The next stimulus plan must ensure that Black microbusinesses can access funds that are supposedly allocated for them, in amounts that can truly help them keep their doors open and employees intact. The SBA Disaster Loan and PPP programs proved to be disastrous for most small Black businesses who applied and received very little to no financial support. The SBA and U.S. Treasury need to do more to ensure future relief programs are not monopolized by so-called small businesses who were able to qualify and were given the majority of funding from the first two rounds of the PPP program.

BTT would also like to see an increase in representation of Black businesses on national boards and advisory committees for Brand USA and the National Travel and Tourism Office’s Tourism and Travel Advisory Board.

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Terry Dale

Terry Dale, CEO, USTOA 

The next administration needs to work diligently on strengthening the American brand both as a country to visit and as a traveling population going to every corner of the world. 

We need to reintroduce legislation that would establish an assistant secretary of commerce for travel and tourism. We are one of very few countries around the world that doesn’t recognize travel and tourism through a cabinet-level position. What we’ve learned from this pandemic is how critical travel and tourism is to local economies in our country and around the world. To signal to the world that we understand and recognize that, we need to have a position like this providing leadership, especially in times of crisis like Covid-19. 

The Department of Homeland Security is exploring developing safe travel corridors between the U.S. and international destinations. I’d strongly encourage that as we work our way through the pandemic, this gets amplified. Safe travel corridors will be necessary before we truly reopen global travel.

The National Park Service needs to be a priority right now. Their guidance limiting groups traveling to 10 or less is very restrictive. We’ve said for the past few months that domestic travel will be the first to pick up, and national parks are one of our greatest assets.

We have to support Brand USA and its funding. It is our face and voice globally. We always lobby on behalf of Brand USA and will continue to do so with the next administration.

The Restart Act should create a loan program that provides small businesses the ability to jump-start, whether it’s interest-free loans, flexible mortgages or creative financing options. We haven’t been successful in getting the next stimulus package passed. As we move forward, we need that to be a priority. We’re doing everything we can to advocate for small businesses. Our members are primarily small and medium-sized businesses, and we face all the economic challenges that everyone else does.

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Eben Peck

Eben Peck, executive vice president, advocacy, ASTA

The actions of the federal government in response to Covid-19 have played a key role in bringing the travel industry to its knees. Federal leadership over the coming months and years will be critical to restoring it to health.

While public health is paramount in addressing this crisis, governments must not ignore the catastrophic economic consequences of the steps they’ve taken in response to Covid-19, and they have a responsibility to provide some level of support to those harmed by these actions.

According to ASTA member surveys, more than 9 in 10 travel agencies’ business income is down at least 75% compared to 2019, even factoring in the relief programs created by the Cares Act in March. And 73% of ASTA members predict they will be out of business in six months or less if current conditions hold and additional federal relief is not provided.

Here’s what must happen:

 Pass another Covid relief package: The Cares Act provided relief to most travel advisors. However, since these programs have long since run dry, the first priority of the federal government must be to provide additional financial support to businesses most harmed by Covid-19. Ideally, the next bill will include travel agencies in any airline payroll support program and the Restart Act to provide long-term forgivable loans to hard-hit businesses, extend unemployment benefits at least through the first quarter of 2021 and provide individual tax credits to incentivize getting back on the road.

 Set clear standards across all travel modes: The CDC should work with the appropriate federal agencies as well as state and local health departments to set standards for each of the main travel modes. We ask the administration to tell suppliers in each vertical what steps they need to take, by when, to restart travel safely. We believe this will supercharge the nascent travel recovery by allowing suppliers, agencies and consumers to plan and book with confidence.

 Prioritize resumption of international travel: Untangling the multitude of international travel restrictions that exist today will take many months and diplomatic energy. While restarting domestic travel in earnest will likely be the primary focus in the early stages of recovery, the administration must focus the diplomatic assets of the U.S. government toward working with its counterparts across the globe to restore a free flow of travel across borders.

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Tom Popper

Tom Popper, former president of InsightCuba and an industry consultant

Sixty years of U.S. travel restrictions and economic sanctions against Cuba is arguably the longest running U.S. foreign policy failure to date. Not a single goal has been achieved. Instead, U.S. sanctions have caused devastating economic hardship to the Cuban people, divided generations of families, restricted travel freedoms for Americans and hurt U.S. businesses. 

Whoever wins the election has the opportunity to correct 60 years of policy failure and put U.S.-Cuba relations back on track, opening up travel by allowing:

 General licenses for individual travel, which had allowed almost 2 million Americans to visit the island over two years.

 Commercial air to all airports in Cuba. Currently flights are only allowed to Havana.

 Cruises from Miami to Cuba, which ended abruptly, overnight, in 2019.

 Americans to stay in any accommodation across the island without restriction.

 The U.S. Embassy in Havana to restaff and issue visas.

 U.S. technology, manufacturing, hospitality and other businesses to transact in Cuba.

These changes would be a boon for the travel industry, but future presidents could simply roll back progress. Unlike other sanctions, Congress made the U.S. embargo law in 1996 and has the sole authority to lift travel restrictions and the U.S. embargo. Over the past five years there has been strong bipartisan support in Congress for lifting the travel restrictions and the U.S. embargo. Perhaps, with new leadership in the White House and Congress and some old-fashioned deal-making between parties, Congress will surprise us and pass legislation to allow Americans to freely travel to Cuba.

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Catherine Prather

Catherine Prather, president, National Tour Association

The first priority would be reintroduction of legislation in the next Congress to create an assistant secretary of commerce for travel and tourism. In addition to establishing the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board by statute, this would give our industry a higher-level seat at the table and acknowledge the economic power — and importance — of travel and tourism.

Next, the administration must fully support Brand USA, which is paramount to promoting our country to the trade and travelers around the world. 

It’s imperative that a priority be placed in restoring the United States’ position in the global community. This includes working on diplomatic relations with China and creating a climate of inclusion and acceptance to ensure travelers around the world feel welcome to visit the U.S.

The country has learned what those of us in the industry have always known: The stability of the U.S. and global economy depends on travel and tourism. We are a powerful force that runs deep through the economic lifeblood of every community.

Financial support and relief and creative ways to bolster the recovery of travel and tourism is needed. The next administration must look to legislation like the Restart Act and the Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services Act — both currently under consideration — as well as providing tax credits to encourage Americans to travel. That leader also can help restore consumer confidence by wearing masks and social distancing, serving as a model to encourage commonsense health and safety practices.

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