“No matter how you slice it, 2009 is going to be a tough year," Roger Dow, president and CEO of the Travel Industry Association (TIA), said during a recent industry conference call. "According to our estimates, leisure travel, business travel (including meetings and conventions) and international inbound travel will all be down. Depending upon the severity of the economic situation, the decline could range anywhere from 2 to 6 percent compared to 2008.”
In a sweeping review of the challenges faced, Dow said the current problems are similar but different to the post-9/11 crisis. “The travel community has not experienced these sorts of pressures since the days following 9/11," he said. "But while the travel declines following 9/11 were driven by fear and concerns over safety, today’s declines are driven by economic realities and perceptions, where, in certain communities, travel may be viewed as extravagant or unproductive. Whereas an appeal to patriotism and an advertising campaign helped to turn the tide seven years ago, neither is likely to be effective today.”
Dow said the TIA will aggressively promote the bottom line value of business travel, meetings and conventions targeting CEOs, CFOs and others who are deterring employees from traveling. “ We have to make the case to management that business travel, meetings and conventions have a positive return on their investment," he said. "We are going to do this through groundbreaking research and campaign style communications.” This includes a first ever analysis of the return on investment of meetings, conventions and other types of business travel.
The industry can assist TIA’s efforts by letting TIA know what is happening on the ground and what companies are bucking the trend. To help, TIA has launched two new email addresses:
[email protected] and [email protected].
Among the opportunities, Dow cited his belief that President-elect Obama is likely to support the need for significant reforms to the transportation infrastructure, particularly America’s outdated and deteriorating air traffic control system. Dow said Obama is also sending strong signals that investment in green jobs and in national infrastructure— highways, byways and rail system— will be part of an economic stimulus package.
Dow cautioned that, among the challenges, are that the “prospects have increased significantly for a push to pass the so-called “cardcheck” legislation that would make it easier to unionize hotels, restaurants, theme parks and many others in the travel community. “This policy is certain to add significantly to the cost of doing business,” he said. He also expressed concerns with the “potential punitive environmental and tax policies that could add significant new costs to many in the travel community.”
“Washington simply plays too significant a role in the travel process and business of our industry for us to be anything short of aggressive, assertive and committed for the long haul,” Dow said. He urged new policies to increase international inbound travel, to firmly establish travel and the industry as Obama’s economic and diplomatic ally, expand the new U.S. Travel Association’s issue expertise and become a greater political force in Washington.
“We are the future of the American economy," Dow said. "We are present in a big way all 50 states and 435 congressional districts. We provide opportunity to millions of Americans, and growth and stability to millions more. Like all industries, we have our challenges and 2009 will be a trying year. But I know that if we are smart, focused and speak as “one industry with one voice,” we can ensure that the travel community is stronger emerging from today’s crisis than it was when the crisis began.”