Dear Mr. President,
Whoever you turn about to be — with boxes of mail-in ballots still to be opened as of this writing — your policy decisions can make or break the near-term future of travel, and the status of that impactful industry will influence the trajectory of your fortunes.
The following are major areas you’ll need to tackle:
Control the Damn Virus
The prospect of taking a long-haul flight or staying at an urban hotel chain will be the stuff of nostalgia for many years unless the President makes a serious effort to fight the pandemic. A lot of this is about trust; U.S. travelers won’t take a business trip to Europe if they think they’ll get sick on the plane or in an airport. Hotel recovery? Forget about it until hospitality workers and guests don’t fear interacting in the lobby.
It should go without saying — but it needs to be emphasized — there will be no return to “normal” or economic vibrancy, whether on Maple Avenue or Wall Street — if you don’t take the advice of scientists and control the Covid-19 pandemic, pending a vaccine, more widespread testing, and treatments. You have to thread the proverbial needle — take steps to curb the virus, but keep as much of the economy open as possible with safety measures in mind.
All this is admittedly easier articulated than accomplished, and there will be new spikes of the pandemic in various states, but untold numbers of people will face long-term health setbacks or die, and businesses will succumb, too, unless the White House displays leadership instead of abstaining on the issue or worse.
Black Lives Matter
Addressing systemic racism and sexism in government, business, in prisons, on the streets and in American homes isn’t just a nice-to-have in a very divided America. The country isn’t only divided along political lines, but systemic racism, pay inequality, the white male boys’ club in too many corporate boardrooms, and the lack of human rights have a widespread economic impact, as well.
Travel advertising needs to reflect the true composition of the country, and people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community can’t be turned away from renting a vacation home out of racism, sexism or homophobia with the excuse from the host who suddenly realized there was actually no room at the inn.
It isn’t idle chatter that racism and a lack of diversity make companies and countries all that much poorer.
For example, Citigroup global economist Dana Peterson, a Black woman who used the company email system for 18 years without inserting her profile photo as a way to combat people racially stereotyping her, did a study and calculated that bridging the racial divide would have injected an extra economic output of $16 trillion for the U.S. economy since 2000.
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
The new president will have to stimulate the economy with new coronavirus recovery packages for those impacted, whether it is travel agents, small businesses and restaurants, and provide additional relief to people facing long-term job losses and evictions.
Congressional partisans weren’t too far apart leading up to the election so there is potential for compromise without rancor. There are legitimate differences that will have to be overcome, but that’s what compromise is all about.
All of this occurs as U.S. hospitality unemployment stood around 30 percent in September, a downward trend but still unsustainable.
The Trump administration promised to rebuild U.S. highways, bridges and other infrastructure but never followed through. A new initiative on this front would be welcomed.
A Welcome Mat, Not Bans and Xenophobia
The U.S. Travel Association estimated that pre-Covid, in 2019, domestic and foreign travelers doled out some $1.1 trillion in spending in the U.S. economy in 2019.
President Trump’s Muslim travel bans, separations of children from their parents at the U.S-Mexico border, disparagement of U.S. allies, embrace of dictators, and xenophobic utterances about the “China virus” amid tensions with China, jeopardizes the openness and human-to-human contact and cultural-barrier breaking that the travel industry represents at its best.
Trump and Biden — whichever of you prevail in the election — would take a widely divergent approach to foreign policy. Hey, China is a pariah — look at its concentration camps in Xinjiang and clampdown on Hong Kong — but there has to be competition between the U.S. and China without jingoism.
Otherwise, the world could become increasingly fragmented, with occasional Covid-safe travel corridors giving way to tighter visa restrictions and isolation.
While we’re at it, it makes no sense to continue U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba. Given his popularity among some Cuban Americans, Trump will almost inevitably build on his isolation of Cuba, while Biden would likely take up the mantle of the prior Obama-Biden administration, and open things back up.
Disinformation campaigns and breaches of privacy are rampant on social media platforms, and these plagues need to be stamped out or controlled. It’s a healthy move that the Trump administration filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google, but that shouldn’t be an excuse to handcuff big tech in the name of conservative dog whistlers in the media. Left, liberal, conservative and right-wing viewpoints, yes, but disinformation and neo-fascist conspiracy theories, no.
Whether you use the resolute desk in the oval office or work from anywhere on Air Force One, the country desperately needs national leadership to safeguard justice, health and prosperity for its citizens. A vibrant travel industry, as well as recovery of other important economic sectors, would go a long way toward meeting those goals.