30 MAY 2018: While US travel and tourism executives continue to proclaim that America is “open for business,” the country continues to lose market share in the face of visitor skepticism over some of the controversial visitation and immigration policies of the Trump administration, as well as horrifying and routine gun violence in the country.

“More people around the world are travelling than ever before – but too many are visiting places other than the US,” Roger Dow, president and CEO of the US Travel Association (USTA), acknowledged at the recent IPW annual US tourism trade show in Denver. “Bottom line: we’re falling behind our competitors. France – up. Germany – up. China – up. But from 2015 to 2017, the US share of the global travel market slipped from 13.6 percent to 11.9 percent.

“International visitation to many US destinations is thriving – Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Orlando and Seattle, to name a few. But we’d all be doing better if the US had kept its share of the global market,” he continued.

To that end, the USTA has begun a series of tangible initiatives to help reverse the trend, but at the same time maintains a careful narrative that America is eager to welcome “tourists, not terrorists,” and that “without security, there is no tourism.”

However, if US Travel is overt in its desire to keep visitors safe from external threats, it is reluctant to address the staggering domestic gun violence that has manifested itself, for example, in more than one school shooting per week (as reported by CNN) in 2018, including one in Santa Fe, NM, the day before IPW started.

When the subject was raised by Travel Industry Today at a press conference at IPW, close to two dozen attendees privately thanked the publication afterward for raising the issue that “everyone was thinking.”

Roger Dow, the skillful and respected head of USTA, acknowledged the issue, but carefully avoided be drawn in.

“When it comes to guns… and you see the horrific things that have happened, with huge media coverage – as they should – these incidents concern us greatly,” he told Travel Industry Today.

“What happened in Las Vegas (58 people killed in the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history at a music festival on Oct. 1, 2017) concerns us greatly. That said, our whole mission is to increase travel to and within the United States. There’s a lot of dialogue going on… but that’s outside our lane; I’ll just say that we must have a secure place, but not just secure at the airports or getting on a plane, but secure wherever you travel.”

But if disarming America is beyond the scope of US Travel, Dow says there are areas it can influence. As such, the association has banded together with 14 other major business groups in Washington to form the Visit US Coalition, to educate officials in Washington – including at the White House – about pro-travel policies that further the aim that “the US should be the most secure and the most-visited country in the world.”

Among its initiatives are:

• expanding and rebranding the Visa Waiver Program

• setting goals for expanding travel visas

• boosting enrollment in Global Entry

• increasing the number of visa processing facilities worldwide

• developing criteria for 10-year visas with qualified countries

• and opposing “extreme vetting” of 14 million US visa applicants via social media “making the US visa system unnecessarily intrusive or burdensome.”

Already, US Travel is claiming some successes, including the introduction of:

• Biometric Air Exit technology, which uses facial recognition to quickly and securely identify departing travellers

• more automated passport control kiosks at US airports

• a Mobile Passport Control app to expedite entry for American and Canadian citizens into the US, and the expansion of many trusted traveller programs, TSA PreCheck partners, and customs preclearance in international gateways – all designed to reduce wait times for all travellers.

As for the impending reauthorization of Brand USA (which is represented in Canada), prompting fears among many that the destination marketing organization will fall victim budget cuts, Dow is emphatic.

“Brand USA put out fresh return-on-investment data just a couple weeks ago,” he says. “Suffice it to say they are providing tremendous value in marketing the United States to the rest of the world, and they’re going to be at it well into the next decade and beyond. Even with the challenges we’ve faced, the US is still the No. 1 most desired destination among international travellers, according to a study by Destination Analysts.

“We have work to do with Congress to get Brand USA reauthorized past 2020, but Congress has voted to approve Brand USA several times with huge bipartisan majorities. The latest data will only increase the overwhelming support Brand USA enjoys in Washington.

“I’ve said it before, but it certainly bears repeating: Brand USA is here to stay!”

 

Photo credit: Brian Walski 

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