Freedom to travel to Cuba, release of federal highway reauthorization funds, quicker access to visas for international travelers to the United States and rapid implementation of technology upgrades to the air traffic control system are among the legislative priorities for 2011 adopted by the National Tour Association’s (NTA) Board of Directors during their recent meeting in Montreal.
“We anticipate a challenging time in the 112th Congress,” Stephen Richer, NTA public affairs advocate, said, warning that gaining traction with these issues in the new Congress will be difficult. “There are more than 100 new members of Congress, and they will need time to set up their staffs and get acquainted with Congressional procedures.”
Richer reported that he and other NTA members and officials will make a major effort to acquaint the 112th Congress with the NTA agenda at NTA’s Annual Grassroots Symposium in Washington, D.C., March 14-16, 2011.
2011 NTA Government Relations Priority Issues
Cuba remains the only country to which U.S. citizens and official residents cannot travel without a specific U.S. granted license, thereby limiting freedom to travel. NTA will continue its leadership and support of the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, allowing general U.S. travel to Cuba, as well as a less cumbersome process to sell agricultural products there.
2. Reseller Taxes
New taxes are being placed on resellers" of travel by some states and local jurisdictions. Previously, such taxes supported destination marketing. Now they are a source of general revenue in many jurisdictions. NTA opposes any legislation that will create new jurisdictional filings of taxes on tour product elements.
3. Travel Regional Investment Partnership Act
Because legislation to provide matching grants to destination marketing organizations will strengthen domestic travel within the U.S., NTA will continue to seek passage of TRIP to assist domestic marketing through NTA DMO members. This provides recognition within the federal government that domestic travel is good for job creation, revenue generation and the overall economy.
4. Highway Reauthorization Funding
There is a backlog of more than $700 billion in highway infrastructure needs in the United States. Highways, roads, tunnels and bridges are essential for the safe transport of our travelers and the general public. NTA will work with legislative leaders, the U.S. Department of Transportation and strategic partners in the transportation sector to pass legislation that funds prioritized infrastructure needs. With the modern equipment regularly used by NTA tour operators and NTA’s priority on safety, it is imperative that the condition of roads, highways, bridges and tunnels is well maintained and upgraded to meet these standards, the NTA said.
5. Federal Lands Funding
National parks and other public lands are key attractions for tour operators. Maintenance of facilities, interpretation and marketing must all be present for the successful use of public lands. NTA will work with the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Forest Service and other public-lands managers to support adequate funding for the maintenance, interpretation and marketing of these public assets.
The NTA should cooperate with the NPS agenda to drive visitors to underutilized public lands and underutilized parts of public lands, while taking a leadership role in stimulating visitation by infrequent visitor segments of the population.
NTA said it will provide additional leadership in keeping the visitation to public lands affordable and accessible and, in so doing, maintain the working relationships that give ample notice to tour operators on any price increases for admission to public lands, the paid services provided or changes in access. Early notification will give NTA time to either accept the changes or work to find better alternatives.
6. Motorcoach Safety
Passenger safety in motorcoach travel is under review in terms of motorcoach construction, seat belt installation and safety rules for nine-to-15 passenger minivans. These are all desirable goals that should be implemented in a practical way, NTA said. NTA will play a leadership role with other motorcoach organizations to maximize the safety of passengers in a practical, timely way. NTA has previously supported safety improvements in equipment, driver shifts and other operating practices, NTA said.
NTA supports the use of seat belts on new motorcoach equipment, upgraded construction standards, and federal standards for minivans (nine to15 passengers) being used for tourism purposes on an interstate basis. NTA should support the prompt implementation of regulations on small passenger vehicles by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration by giving information to its membership.
7. Energy Conservation
It is likely that the global focus on energy conservation will continue, as demand grows with increasing costs, the NTA said. Motorcoach travel is a cost-efficient use of energy, but other forms—such as air travel—have more attendant costs. This subject will become more and more important in global policy. Carbon usage fees are already in place around the globe with major impacts resulting from high fees on airline passengers. NTA said it continues its support of green tourism and the reduction of energy use it creates.
8. Air Traffic Control
Modern communications are critical especially in the movement of aircraft and the millions of people they carry, NTA says. One of the points in the 2008 Travel Summit recommendations to the incoming administration was to modernize air traffic safety through modern equipment to reduce congestion and frustration. NTA supports the installation of new air traffic control system technology, encouraging the quick implementation of the Next Generation (NexGen) Air Transportation System.
9. Visa Access
Both time delays and distant sites for visa interviews diminishes visitation by international travelers. While some steps have been taken, much more needs to be done. NTA will take a leadership role in finding more ways to provide easier access to visa interviews (e.g., touring agency staff, increased consular staffing in China and Brazil), particularly in those large nations requiring long trips to get an interview. NTA said it supports other State Department steps to shorten the turnaround time in the process including the upcoming request to Congress for a revision in the face-to-face ruling.
10. Corporation for Travel Promotion
The new Corporation is responsible for educating international travelers about U.S. security and entry process issues, in addition to its primary purpose of increasing visitation to the United States. NTA will take a strong role in monitoring the progress of the Corporation, communicating with its members about the activities, programs and the success of this new, NTA said.