Illustration by bizvector/Shutterstock.com
Illustration by bizvector/Shutterstock.com
As travelers emerge from the Covid-19 crisis, it is a pivotal period for the industry, and top travel organizations and groups are setting priorities to smooth the reentry process for cruising, help advisors weather the financial crunch, push the Biden administration on a plan to reopen borders and more.
Late last month, our reporters contacted the heads of travel organizations to get their take on issues critical to their industries. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Taken together, these responses paint a clear picture of what it will take to get travel moving smoothly again.
Eben Peck, executive vice president, advocacy
Reflecting on the trauma of the past 15 months, it’s clear that the travel agency sector was uniquely exposed to the global pandemic. We are reliant on the types of travel that were immediately shut down by Covid-19 and are only starting to reawaken. Add to this the dreaded “commission lag” between when a trip is booked and when the associated revenue reaches the agency.
While we are seeing green shoots, we still have a long way to go. As it has from the beginning of the crisis, the federal government looms large over the short-term fate of our industry. From where we sit, the federal response to Covid has been deeply frustrating, though I shudder to think where we’d be without the relief programs created by the Cares Act starting in March 2020.
At this point, the support we need from the federal government really falls into two buckets:
• Provide additional support to hard-hit businesses: While the latest relief bills provided some breathing room, the assistance is modest, untargeted and short-lived. Without additional “bridge” funding, our industry faces the prospect of continued economic pain. What form this support takes — our favored approach is the proposed Securing Access for Venue Equity (Save) Act (H.R. 2120) — is less important than that it happens. While many in Congress are ready to move on from Covid relief, their constituents in the agency sector remain at risk of losing their livelihoods and desperately need more help.
• Restart international travel: There’s a lot that goes in this bucket, from harmonizing international entry restrictions to supporting work on interoperable digital health systems to modifying the CDC’s inbound testing rule so that vaccinated Americans are not at risk of being stranded overseas. What’s clear is that international travel will not safely return to pre-pandemic levels without the leadership of the U.S. government.
Covid-19 is a once-in-a-lifetime event, and there is no silver bullet that will turn the clock back to 2019. Under any scenario, it will take years for our part of the industry to recover from this crisis, but the items above along with continued momentum on cruising and business travel will help speed the recovery. At ASTA, we will work night and day on behalf of our members to make that happen.
Terry Dale, CEO
USTOA membership struggled during the Covid-19 pandemic, as the entire industry has. We are encouraged by rising vaccinations across the country and the world, and the start of a return to some semblance of normalcy. As the travel and tourism industry continues to rebound, the USTOA is focused on legislative and executive branch policy efforts, working hand in hand with the rest of the industry to bring the tourism industry into the post-Covid world. The USTOA is focused on continuing to restore domestic travel and is working with Capitol Hill, the Biden administration and industry to foster the expeditious and safe restoration of international travel.
We are encouraged that Europe has lifted its ban on travel to the U.S., opening the door for others to lift their own restrictions on travelers from the U.S. While a positive development, more must be done to further reopen international travel, which will again start contributing significant capital to critical programs like Brand USA, a key USTOA priority.
The USTOA has worked closely with our nation’s national parks directly and with their agency headquarters in Washington throughout the pandemic. We have seen a great deal of success in ensuring consistency across the nation’s largest national parks when it comes to operations and group size restrictions.
Our engagement has led to a more unified approach, which has in turn allowed our members and tour operators and motorcoach operators everywhere to better plan future trips.
Lastly, the USTOA and our partners are focused on the enactment of the Save Act. The bill would make tour operators and other businesses eligible for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program. We have activated our members to contact their representatives to support this legislation, and we are currently engaging potential Senate companion sponsors.
Kelly Craighead, CEO
As the trade association representing the global cruise industry — from individual cruise lines to suppliers, travel agents, ports and destinations — advancing the responsible resumption of cruise operations around the world remains CLIA’s top priority. More than half a million passengers have sailed since last summer, with protocols that have proven effective even before vaccines became widely available. Still, much work remains to reach pre-pandemic levels and help the industry accommodate the demand of nearly 30 million travelers who cruised in 2019.
Public health and safety will remain at the forefront of all that we do. Together with our members, CLIA will continue to engage world-class experts who are helping to guide the return of cruising in Europe, Asia and, most recently, in the United States, where we successfully leveraged the collective voice of the U.S. cruise community to help facilitate a restart of operations.
However, cruising remains idle in places such as Canada, Australia and South America. We look forward to continuing discussions with local governments in these markets to establish a path to resumption, which will put people back to work, contribute to the ongoing economic recovery from the pandemic and provide one of the best ways to see the world.
At the same time, CLIA remains focused on identifying new opportunities for the industry to lead the way in the areas of environmental sustainability, public health and safety, destination stewardship, workforce development and economic impact.
The cruise industry has invested $23.5 billion in ships with new technologies and cleaner fuels, and we remain committed to the International Maritime Organization’s target of a zero-carbon future.
Suzanne Neufang, CEO
The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) has continued to advocate globally for the safe return to business travel on behalf of its members. Since the outset of the pandemic, the GBTA has worked with governments in the EU, U.K., Canada and Washington to raise the profile of the business travel industry, the impact of Covid-19 and the financial support needed for the industry to survive and thrive once again.
Our goal remains to safely open up business travel, which is why the GBTA launched the “Ready. Safe. Travel.” campaign to educate travelers on when, where and how to travel safely. In addition, it seeks to highlight the impact and differences of business versus leisure travel. Business travel is to connect with clients, employers and employees. It is travel with a purpose.
With the increasing availability of effective vaccines, international travel can resume. The GBTA is pushing for risk management versus risk elimination in travel and calling for an end to blanket quarantines and the uncertainty such policies create. To that end, the need for mutually agreed-upon protocols and reciprocity for testing, vaccines and entry requirements among all countries is a must. Individual risk profiles along with country epidemiological trends should be the driving force for accepting travelers.
As business travel resumes, we must also be cognizant of the environmental impact. The GBTA is working with industry and governments to minimize the footprint of the traveler. Sustainable aviation
fuels, improved multimodal availability and a strong sense of responsibility will be a driving force for the association as we enter into this new phase of business travel.
Doug Lavin, vice president of member and external relations, North America
IATA’s top priority is restoring global air connectivity that has been shattered during the Covid-19 crisis. To achieve this, governments need to adopt a data-driven, risk-based approach to opening their borders. This means acknowledging that Covid-19 is unlikely to be eliminated but can be successfully managed, as is commonly done with other infectious diseases and risks.
A market where this approach is long overdue is the U.S. At this writing, it remains largely closed to international visitors from many key markets with comparable or lower infection rates, including the U.K., Ireland and the Schengen Area, despite the high vaccination levels on both sides of the Atlantic. For example, as of late June, 57% of the U.S. adult population was fully vaccinated as was 78% of the higher-risk population age 65 and older.
It is also vital that governments share their metrics and timetables for reopening. Shutting down aviation rapidly was easy; restarting is not, involving as it does retraining licensed personnel who may be coming back from months of furlough or inactivity and safely returning thousands of aircraft to service.
Finally, if governments are going to continue to require proof of a negative Covid-19 test or a Covid vaccine for travel, it is imperative that they accept this documentation digitally rather than requiring travelers to line up at airports counters to present it. Such an approach is a recipe for chaos as passengers are forced to complete in person processing rather than using digital alternatives that have been widely available for 15 to 20 years.
We’ve developed the IATA Travel Pass to enable travelers to receive and manage their health-related travel documentation on their mobile phones and share it securely with airlines and governments. Now it’s up to governments to do their part.
It’s clear from the ongoing domestic travel recovery in the U.S. and other markets that people are ready to travel again. It’s time for governments to show leadership and reopen borders based on a risk-based, data-driven approach.
Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA)
Kevin M. Burke, CEO
The ACI-NA is focused on restoring confidence in air travel and reopening international borders. We estimate that the pandemic will cost U.S. airports more than $40 billion and Canadian airports more than $4.4 billion in lost revenues by the end of 2021, numbers that will only grow if passenger volumes remain depressed. Safely and securely reopening international borders will be critical to economic recovery coming out of the pandemic. We have renewed our call for industry and government partners to increase coordination in hopes of resuming the flow of people and commerce once it is safe to do so.
Although Covid-19 has dominated much of our work as an association for the last year, the ACI-NA continues to advance the myriad issues that have not stopped even during a global pandemic, including the environment and infrastructure needs. For example, airports remain laser-focused on creating a more sustainable future for air travel. The ACI-NA recently welcomed the airport industry’s global commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Meanwhile, investments in aviation infrastructure are more vital than ever before. Airport infrastructure has long been underfunded, creating a backlog of $115 billion worth of necessary projects. We are encouraged by the recent bipartisan infrastructure framework that includes $25 billion in new airport infrastructure investment.
We are also encouraged by the bipartisan support for modernizing the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC), the main funding mechanism for airport infrastructure projects. Congress last raised the maximum PFC level 20 years ago, and rising construction costs and inflation since then have reduced the PFC’s purchasing power by 40%.
Modernizing the PFC cap would enable airports to fund projects that provide concrete benefits for travelers, such as expanding old terminals and increasing airport capacity and throughput, which allows for more airline competition and results in lower ticket prices.
American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA)
Ken Greene, interim president and CEO
As the industry begins to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, we remain focused on helping hotel owners recover and ensuring they have the tools needed to reemerge even stronger.
The industry was hit harder than anyone could have anticipated, and it’s not expected to recover until 2024.
Despite that, hoteliers are persevering as the country slowly reopens.
Kudos to the Biden administration for focusing on getting vaccines into arms. Demand has increased at a rate no one expected at the beginning of the year, so now, hoteliers are looking to rehire.
AAHOA members across the country are confronting workforce shortages. It is clear it has become increasingly challenging to recruit and retain employees in the hospitality industry. The association is addressing this emergency by encouraging states to create programs that connect hoteliers with workers who can safely return to their jobs. In Washington, we have endorsed the Save Hotel Jobs Act, which would provide direct payroll support to help hoteliers meet demand … and a survey the AAHOA conducted with its members back in May highlights how much demand there is.
Recently, a federal bill was introduced to freeze government per diem rates at pre-pandemic prices. The association is encouraging one of the largest purchasers of hotel rooms, the U.S. government, to support the industry in its recovery by ensuring hotels receive fair rates.
Another topic that the AAHOA has been following closely is the 1031 exchange, or like-kind exchange. The Biden administration has called for eliminating 1031 exchange deferrals for gains over $500,000.
The AAHOA has led a coalition for years to protect and preserve 1031 and remains committed to protecting it, as it’s a vital tool that allows hoteliers to continue reinvesting in their communities.
Airlines for America (A4A)
Rebecca Spicer, senior vice president, communications
Before the pandemic, U.S. airlines were transporting a record 2.5 million passengers and 58,000 tons of cargo daily. As travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders were imposed, air travel declined sharply — down 96% last spring.
A4A and our carriers removed brand hats and collaborated with labor partners. Employees sent 450,000 emails and tweets to Capitol Hill saying: “SAVE OUR JOBS.” We are grateful that Congress, and two administrations, acted three times to keep thousands of employees on the job, licensed and certified.
The uptick of domestic leisure travel is encouraging, but passenger volumes remain 21% below 2019 levels. A4A member airline revenue is down 45%, and the industry is burning $100 million in cash each day, primarily because corporate and international travel remain decimated. (In May, U.S. / U.K. travel was down 96%.)
We urge the U.S. government to develop a risk-based, data-driven road map for reopening markets safely. Science affirms that international air travel is safe for vaccinated passengers as well as for those who have been tested. It is time to allow international travelers to fly to the U.S.
We plan to increase our use of technology, including voluntary digital health credentials, which help validate proof of vaccinations or tests. Other technologies — apps, touchless check-in, increased biometric options and disinfection protocols — help enhance security, passenger facilitation and customer experience.
A4A members have committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. We are working with industry and government to expand production and deployment of sustainable aviation fuels and to modernize the air traffic management system. We also are expanding diversity and inclusion initiatives to ensure that we have a sustainable workforce for years to come.