Skip to site content
Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader

Inbound travel issues highlight RSAA Summit

LAS VEGAS — A threat to existing “Open Skies” agreements, a major new Brand USA mega-FAM tie-in and the coming wave of travelers from China were topics that received attention from 200 attendees at the RSAA Summit held February 3-4 in Las Vegas. RSAA is the Receptive Services Association of America and represents the inbound receptive industry that provides travel arrangements for millions of international travelers each year.

“The three legacy carriers in the United States [Delta, American and United] have petitioned the Obama administration to restrict foreign carriers’ ability to operate direct flights into the United States,” said RSAA chairman Jonathan Zuk of Amadeo Travel Solutions in an interview. “After four years of continuous growth in travel to the United States as well as recent successful initiatives to stimulate more travel from China, this policy could endanger our country’s goal of welcoming 100 million visitors by 2021.”

The goal Zuk referenced is an industrywide objective set forth by Brand USA, the industry’s marketing coalition, that is seeking to increase international visitation to the United States from 71 million in 2014 to 100 million in 2021.

“We’re focused exclusively on travel to the United States,” said RSAA executive director Matt Grayson. “International visitors should have the most and best options available to them to get here. Open Skies does that.”

At the opening session, Zuk shared RSAA’s new tie-in with Brand USA that means its members will provide the ground arrangements for mega-FAMs that bring hundreds of international travel agents and operators in for weeklong immersion into American culture.

“We had clients contacting us after these FAMs saying, ‘We’re ready to come — we’re ready to sell these areas,’ but the product didn’t exist,” Zuk said afterward. “We met with Brand USA and told them we needed to be involved on the front end of these and have product ready to go for these FAM participants. They agreed, and now we will.”

RSAA negotiated an exclusive arrangement with Brand USA for the FAMs, and Zuk sees that program becoming a potential incentive for new receptives to join.

Grayson underscored how significant the reauthorization of Brand USA was in December.

“The brand is critical to everyone’s success,” he said. “Other countries have been able to take their tourism efforts for granted, but this has been a major accomplishment for us. Now other countries know we’re serious.”

While several countries like Brazil, India and Australia are seen as major drivers of international visitation to the United States in the decade ahead, none present the “game-changing” opportunities that China does.

“To paraphrase Fred Dixon of NYC and Company, none of us in our careers will ever see a tourism wave like we’ll see from China in the coming decade,” said Zuk. “An estimated 7.1 million Chinese travelers will arrive in the U.S. in 2020. That’s the equivalent of 50 to 80 full planes each day, 365 days a year.”  

Mac Lacy

Mac Lacy is president and publisher of The Group Travel Leader Inc. Mac has been traveling and writing professionally ever since a two-month backpacking trip through Europe upon his graduation with a journalism degree from the University of Evansville in 1978.