The Visit U.S. Coalition, a group of 15 travel and related industry organizations, has unveiled its strategy for working with the Trump administration and the Congress to reverse the country’s inbound tourism slump.
The coalition launched in January as the U.S. travel industry’s answer to Trump’s travel policies after a year of travel bans, outrageous rhetoric, and international visitor declines that were impacted by currency fluctuations and the president’s policies.
The U.S. Travel Association, one of the coalition’s founding members, and other travel companies and organizations had been calling for most of these agenda items before the coalition was formed. But two items – setting an international visitation goal and designating an administration official to spearhead tourism as a national priority – are new developments.
International arrivals to the United States were down 3.6 percent overall from January through August 2017, the most recent month for which U.S. Department of Commercdata is available. Mexico arrivals were down 7.6 percent through August and overseas arrivals were fell 6 percent while Canada was up 4.5 percent.
U.S. Travel has said the United States began to lose its market share of international arrivals in 2015 when other countries’ arrivals were growing much faster. The decline in visitors started in late 2016 and has continued through August.
In a statement announcing the agenda, the coalition doesn’t blame the president for his controversial rhetoric and actions as a factor in the visitor decline and doesn’t mention Trump’s travel bans. The agenda includes:
- Regain the United States’ global tourism market share (13.6 percent) by getting 88 million international visitors and $294 billion in spending by 2020.
- Support and advocate for Brand USA
- Designate a senior administration official to focus on elevating travel and tourism as a national priority.
- Rename the visa waiver program
- Build stronger international security partnerships and make the United States safer by developing a roadmap for new visa waiver program countries and pursue policy changes that will allow for new entrants.
- Promote that the United States is “Open for Business” by expanding access to travel visas, develop criteria for 10-year travel visa validity with appropriate countries, and increase the number of visa processing facilities in high demand countries.
- Gather data on the potential impact that increased utilization of secure technology will have on visa processing, address staffing needs at key international locations, and better understand trends for visa refusals in crucial/high-demand markets.
- Expand awareness and participation in trusted traveler programs like Global Entry, Nexus, Sentri, and Preclearance to more international markets.
Brand USA, which is tasked with promoting international travel to the United States, has a goal of 100 million visitors and $250 billion in visitor spending by 2021. That goal was set during the Obama administration in 2012 when international arrivals were growing.
Brand USA, which said it’s completely separate from Visit U.S., confirmed it’s still aiming for the 100 million visitor goal.
“We realize that the arrivals target was always a stretch goal and remains challenging in the context of multiple years of a strong dollar and several other global and macroeconomic factors,” said Anne Madison, chief strategy and communications officer for Brand USA. “However, the spending goal of $250 billion has nearly been met, as total visitor spending eclipsed $244 billion for the second straight year in 2014.”
International visitor spending dropped in 2015, 2016, 2017. International visitors spent a little more than $244 billion last year (down 0.3 percent year-over-year).
In January, the U.S. Commerce Department released international arrivals projections through 2022, when it projects more than 89 million people will visit the country. Some of the near-term projections appear inflated and unrealistic given the current decline. For 2020, the target year for Visit U.S., the commerce figures project 83.4 million visitors or 5 million fewer visitors than the Visit U.S. goal.
Patricia Rojas-Ungár, vice president of public affairs for U.S. Travel, said there’s a sense of urgency from the coalition to address the visitor decline right away. “We want to get back to the 13.6 percent market share that we had before 2015,” said Rojas-Ungár. “That would get us to about 88 million travelers. It took us nearly a decade to regain our market share after 9/11 and we don’t want a similar situation this time.”
The Visit U.S. and Brand USA visitor goals and commerce projections aren’t set in stone and will change depending on the economy and other factors. All sides have a different number in mind for what international tourism in the United States will look like in the near future, and both Brand USA and Visit U.S. admit their goals will be challenging to meet.
TripAdvisor, which helps influence how many international travelers perceive U.S. destinations, said it supports the coalition’s mission. “We are supportive of efforts to increase inbound tourism to the United States and are engaged in this effort through our trade association, the Travel Technology Association of America (a Visit U.S. member), and through our membership within the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory board,” said TripAdvisor spokesman Brian Hoyt.
New White House Tourism Post
Rojas-Ungár said one of the agenda items of Visit U.S. is to find someone inside the White House to take on the responsibility of the travel industry and communicate its benefits to President Trump. Securing such a designee may be a long shot.
The official wouldn’t outrank U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who is the highest-ranking cabinet official with some tourism responsibilities, or diminish his influence, said Rojas-Ungár. “We appreciate the support of the commerce department and Secretary Ross has expressed support of travel and tourism in the past. We want to identify someone within the White House that could carry travel and tourism responsibilities.”
Rojas-Ungár said the coalition believes it’s essential for someone within the White House to advocate for the travel industry. “This person would be a liaison with the travel community in the White House,” she said.
It’s not clear if meetings between the coalition and the White House and Congress have started. But it is apparent is that the coalition doesn’t plan to lay the blame on the president. Similarly, many U.S. tourism boards that Skift has spoken to recognize the president policies could harm tourism but feel the dollar and other currencies are more of a factor in the visitor decline.
Although the U.S. dollar isn’t as strong this year as it has been in recent years, some major currencies like the euro and Brazilian real that are important for U.S. tourism have improved against the dollar this year. The coalition’s work will be to pinpoint other factors beyond currency fluctuations for the visitor drop and work to reverse them.