Skift Take

The U.S. travel industry should lower their expectations that the assistant secretary for travel and tourism will make their jobs easier.

The U.S. travel industry shouldn’t get its hopes up that the newly created assistant secretary for travel and tourism position will make the U.S. more globally competitive, said U.S. Travel CEO and President Geoff Freeman at the Skift Global Forum.

“It’s a positive step that we have this new assistant secretary position, but it is not a panacea and all of us have to recognize that,” said Freeman.

In December, Congress passed legislation that created an assistant secretary for travel and tourism in the Department of Commerce. The position has not been filled and its office needs $3.5 million in funding

The assistant secretary’s job is to set visitation goals, craft a national strategy and establish interagency coordination. The office-holder will help bring international large conventions, sports competitions and special events to the U.S.

But it doesn’t actually have the power over federal agencies causing problems for the travel sector, such as long visa wait times and air traffic control shortages.

“You look at so many of our challenges in the Department of Transportation, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of ‘Let’s keep people from traveling’ – across the federal government and people in the Department of Commerce are going to be limited in their ability to solve those problems,” said Freeman.

For over 20 years, the travel industry has been pushing for higher level representation at the federal level.

The absence of a ‘tourism czar’ has put the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage against destinations like Saudi Arabia, said private equity firm Certares Founder and Senior Managing Director Greg O’Hara in a separate conversation at Skift Global Forum.

“The U.S. government is not as well organized from the outside,” said O’Hara. ”I don’t know how many of you do business around the world but there’s almost always a tourism minister or a tourism secretary.” 

That doesn’t matter as long as the U.S. doesn’t have a coordinated strategy at the executive level for growing their travel sector like Saudi Arabia, UK and Canada does. “We do not have that type of strategy in the United States and we’re not going to have it because we have an assistant secretary for travel and tourism within the Department of Commerce,” said Freeman. “This starts at the top.”


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Tags: Department of Transportation, state department, tourism, U.S. Department of Commerce, u.s. visa

Photo credit: U.S. Travel Association CEO and President Geoff Freeman and NYC Tourism + Conventions CEO and President Fred Dixon at Skift Global Forum Skift / Skift

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