U.S. Travel Sets Roadmap to Travel Industry Recovery

On Wednesday, February 2, U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow and Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy Tori Emerson Barnes delivered an assessment of the current U.S. travel industry and their vision for the future at the association’s annual “State of the Travel Industry” address delivered via webcast from the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

“The past two years tested our industry as never before—but we are recovering and building back to growth,” Dow said in his opening remarks. “Together, we are moving beyond the pandemic with our eyes on the future.”

Added Barnes: “While the road to full recovery may be longer than we would like, we are already looking far beyond the pandemic to a brighter, more globally competitive, increasingly more sustainable, diverse and innovative future for the whole of the U.S. travel industry.”

Dow acknowledged some of the short-term priorities that U.S. Travel believes Congress and the Biden Administration should act upon immediately to ensure an even recovery for all sectors of travel—including passing funding for the Brand USA Act, enacting tax credits for venues, event organizers and/or small businesses, and providing new targeted relief grants to small travel businesses. He then mapped out a plan that looks beyond the pandemic to return the industry to growth and increase competitiveness for decades to come. As part of the plan were five areas of focus that will drive forward the association and the broader travel industry in the months and years ahead: Workforce rehabilitation; travel facilitation and security; the future of travel mobility; sustainability; and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

“I am optimistic about the coming years because I have seen what this industry is capable of,” Dow said. “From adversity comes opportunity, from challenges comes growth. Always, in facing past troubles, the U.S. travel industry has displayed incredible resilience and unity and emerged stronger than before. The same is true today.”

Travel Recovery

Dow noted that “we have made a lot of progress since March 2020,” specifically among the domestic leisure travel segment. The vaccine rollout, which began in early 2021, results in a “surge in travel demand,” he added. Further, recent data from Destination Analysts found that more than 80 percent of Americans are excited to plan a vacation in the next six months.

While remarking that “the worst of the pandemic is truly behind us,” Dow said there is still plenty of work ahead. Through December 2021, cumulative spending losses in travel totaled $730 billion; in addition, more than 7 percent of all leisure and hospitality jobs remain lost. And while domestic leisure travel is rebounding well, international travel, professional meetings and business travel continue to lag. It may take until 2024 for international travel and these other segments to fully recover.

DEI and the Workforce

“An immediate pressing need is to get people back to work,” Dow said. “Businesses have jobs to fill, especially as we look ahead to the busy summer travel season. There are nearly 11 million job openings, with 1.7 million in leisure and hospitality alone.”

A focus of U.S. Travel is looking at how the industry hires and recruits workers to better understand why jobs are not being filled. The perks of the industry—such as being provided the opportunity to see the country, or the world—should be a highlight. That said, Dow added, “As a whole, we need to be more flexible with scheduling and do more to promote a work-life balance.”

Staffing at Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection is another goal for U.S. Travel; this will help to improve security and efficiency at the airport. On a similar note, Dow spoke about how airports should expand their use of biometric technology. “Biometric identification provides faster facilitation, greater accuracy, and a more secure travel environment,” he said. Dow emphasized, however, this data must only be used to identification purposes—and only on a voluntary basis.

U.S. Travel is also working with Congress and the Biden Administration to create a higher cap on H-2B and J-1 visas, as well as advocating for faster visa processing times for low-risk applicants, to assist jobs getting filled. The association also sees a great opportunity to make America’s diversity a strength in the industry.

“Our workforce should be representative of our diverse populace,” Barnes said. At the end of last year, U.S. Travel launched a new partnership with Tourism Diversity Matters, a coalition of industry leaders that are working to increase diversity across all sectors of travel. Tourism Diversity Matters was founded last year to address blind spots in ethnic disparities within the tourism and events industry while providing industry leaders with resources and methods to develop more effective DEI strategies to engage, recruit and retain a diverse workforce.

Sustainability and the Future of Travel Mobility

Tori Emerson Barnes, U.S. Travel
U.S. Travel Association EVP of Public Affairs and Policy Tori Emerson Barnes addresses the audience at the “State of the Travel Industry.”  (Photo Courtesy of U.S. Travel Association)

Just like diversity, equity and inclusion and workforce rehabilitation have overlap, so does the future of travel mobility and sustainability.

Last October, U.S. Travel launched the Future of Travel Mobility program; it, according to Barnes, “contemplates the critical intersection of travel, transportation and technology.” The Future of Travel Mobility event brought together global leaders in travel, transportation and technology with government officials and policy influencers to engage on central issues impacting the future of travel mobility and the traveler experience. (This conversation will be continued virtually throughout the year, with a live event scheduled for September.)

Issued addressed included emerging technologies like the Hyperloop and high-speed rail, cities that are being designed to welcome travelers in sustainable ways in the future, and improving infrastructure in America’s airports (which also goes hand-in-hand with expanding biometric security measures).

In addition, with the majority of trips in the U.S. being taken by car, expanding electric vehicle infrastructure—and ensuring there are no charging deserts—is crucial, Barnes said. And on that front, she noted the “great progress,” U.S. Travel has made. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act), passed in October 2021, included $7.5 billion in funding to expand electric vehicle infrastructure. “Automakers are making all-electric fleet commitments which will be realized sooner than most think. That’s really good news for the environment. But our voice is important to ensure that travel businesses can be prepared and that travelers can get to any and every destination they may desire,” Barnes said.

She added another key focus is the rollout of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). U.S. Travel is working with the federal government to ensure it moves quickly to facilitate the adoption of SAF. “This is crucial to growing our industry and protecting the planet, while also keeping customers at the forefront,” said Barnes.

The Future of U.S. Travel

Having planned to retire several years ago, Dow remained in his position to see the association through the COVID-19 pandemic. During the “State of the Travel Industry” address, he reiterated his plan to step down in July 2022. During his tenure, he oversaw IPW evolving into “one of the top events for the global travel industry” and the development of “bold” new initiatives such as Brand USA, integrating the Meetings Mean Business Coalition within U.S. Travel and the creation of the “Let’s Go There” marketing campaign.

U.S. Travel has formed a search committee and it is hopeful to have made its choice for successor in late May/early June. That said, Dow acknowledged he would be willing to stay on longer, should U.S. Travel need more time to determine the next CEO/president.

Concluding the address, Dow said: “I have seen this industry do extraordinary things. After 9/11, many said that our industry would never recover. But we did. With great focus and determination, we united to have our strongest decade ever. We made it through 9/11, the global financial crisis, and other health scares like Zika. We stick together when times are tough, and we celebrate the wins when times are good.

“And I think there are a lot of good times on the horizon for the travel industry.”

Related Stories

Stats: Omicron Causes Travel Demand to Fall From Two-Year High

Travel Industry to Congress: Enact Policies to Restore Demand

Travel Sector's Effect on Economy Could Reach Near 2019 Levels

U.S. Travel: Battle Burnout by Taking Time to Plan a Vacation