WASHINGTON: The U.S. Travel Association is kicking off a roadshow this week to rally the country behind an overlooked but essential industry: tourism.
The Travel Works Roadshow will start in St. Louis and Columbus, Ohio, convening local and national leaders. The organization is using the push to show how "travel works" to benefit jobs, trade, commerce, security and the country as a whole.
"The end goal is to elevate the travel industry and ensure policymakers understand we’re a serious business and that we’re no different from agriculture, manufacturing and automotive," said Tori Emerson Barnes, EVP of public affairs and policy at the Travel Association.
The roadshow will run through spring 2020 with destinations in the Northeast, South and mountain states. The group picked Columbus and St. Louis as launch points because both cities have seen "tremendous growth" as a result of international travel, Barnes said.
In Columbus, U.S. Travel wants to highlight the impact of sports and tourism by doing a walkthrough of Ohio Stadium with Ohio State University’s athletic director, as well as showing off the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.
Most of the campaign was planned by U.S. Travel’s six-person internal team with some support from Washington D.C.-based agency Locust Street.
Travel is a "top 10 employer in 49 states and [Washington D.C.], supporting one in 10 American jobs overall," said U.S. Travel spokesperson Cathy Reynolds, via email.
Investment in the travel industry has led to "fundamentally pro-security programs, using cutting-edge technology to thoroughly screen domestic travelers and international visitors alike," Reynolds added, via email.
However, tourism to the U.S. has suffered from sluggish growth, Barnes added. The country has underperformed the top 15 destinations in the world since 2015, except Egypt, while tourism growth for Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Canada far outstripped the U.S.
U.S. Travel is also advocating for the preservation of funding for Brand U.S.A., a public-private partnership established by the Travel Promotion Act in 2010 to promote the country as a destination.
Funding for the program comes from a $10 fee that international visitors pay through the Visa Waiver Program, as well as from the travel industry. It does not use taxpayer money, according to U.S. Travel.
The organization also wants to expand the VWP, to which 38 countries are a party. "When we see countries that [join] the VWP, that helps increase inbound travel from the country and it help the economy tremendously," Barnes said.
U.S. Travel is also encouraging legislation that would rename the VWP as the Secure Travel Partnership because it currently "has the worst name in the business," Barnes added.