A contentious 2016 election has led to an acrimonious 2017 in the United States, with political forces inside and outside the country putting pressure on how Americans see each other, as well as how they see outsiders and how foreigners view America. The Group Travel Leader spoke with the heads of four tourism industry associations to get their perspectives on these and other issues shaping the travel industry today.
Carylann Assante, Executive director, Student and Youth Travel Association (SYTA)
Terry Dale, President and CEO, United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA)
Pam Inman, President, NTA
Peter Pantuso, President and CEO, American Bus Association (ABA)
The political landscape — both and home and broad — seems more complicated and contentious than it has been in a long time. does this have implications for the travel industry, and if so, how are your members and their customers reacting and adjusting to those implications?
Dale: It doesn’t, and it’s probably the most interesting, frustrating, fascinating cycle that I have been in, possibly in my whole career. On one hand, it feels as if we’re under attack, when we have a new administration’s travel bans, “extreme vetting,” rollback of Cuba travel and laptop bans. It feels like so many of our core issues, which can strike at the success of our members’ business, are under siege. But the reality is, business is extraordinarily healthy.
We just did a survey of our members, asking them about how business is coming in 2017. Everyone who responded, except for one, indicated that they’re having double-digit growth. This is the first time we’re seeing growth like that virtually across the board.
It’s an extraordinary political landscape that we’re operating in, but I cannot say that it’s impacting our members. I like to be an optimist. I don’t know how long this will last. It could be that Wall Street doesn’t continue on this escalation. The dollar or consumer confidence may weaken. But for the moment, we have to enjoy the healthy start of 2017.
Inman: It’s certainly a concern. Every time the travel ban or something negative is mentioned in the press, it’s a concern for people wanting to travel. But our members are saying their business has not been affected yet. Arrivals and spending are up.
The first year of the Obama administration, we went through the same thing. People were saying, you don’t need to travel, you don’t need to go to conferences; and the industry had to work with them to educate them about the value of travel. We’re going to work with this administration as well.
Overall, we feel like we continue to advocate for Brand USA and the national parks and work with them. So our members say that business is up and that they’re confident.
Assante: Yes, we do believe it has implications for the student and youth travel industry, and as a result, our board has met to develop a response to this changing landscape. SYTA believes that all students and youth should have the opportunity to experience the world through travel, and therefore, any hindrance to that opportunity is a concern for our members. SYTA is gathering information to measure the actual and potential impact of the travel ban and other policies so that we can educate our legislators, members and customers about the issues resulting from the ban.
We want to reassure all travel planners and travelers that SYTA is committed to a culture of safety, with thorough planning, excellent itinerary implementation and the highest quality standards, so that every child who travels the world can do so with confidence. We are actively working with U.S. Travel and other associations both domestically and internationally to have a coordinated response to the current environment.
Pantuso: The political landscape has some positives to it that aren’t always evident. We have seen some of the challenges, like the administration’s interest in jettisoning Brand USA, which Congress rejected. And the focus on the border and the early presidential order that limited people coming in from certain countries have painted the U.S. as being an unfriendly place to come and do business. When those things happened, we started getting calls from a number of our travel members saying they’re getting cancellations from groups. The Toronto school district canceled trips by students to the U.S. So there’s no question there’s been an impact.
Having said that, the economy is pretty good right now, and the stock market is up there and has been for a month.
The other plus is that this administration came in with the idea that they were going to look at some of the regulations that have impacted industry and have certainly impacted the motorcoach industry. In the prior two years, we saw a tremendous amount of regulations come out of the Department of Transportation. This year, we have seen a lot of regulations pulled back. From a motorcoach perspective, we’re pretty pleased with where we see the administration going, not withstanding all the other things that people get worked up about.