Americans want to travel again — let’s get the travel industry back in shape

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Over the past two years, Americans have seen firsthand the impact of travel at a standstill: the negative impact it has on our economy, massive job losses, missed face-to-face interactions, and the unpredictability of changing restrictions.

The pandemic has tested the travel industry as never before, but we’re recovering and rebuilding. We saw a surge in travel demand — primarily in the domestic leisure sector — after the deployment of vaccines last year. Recent data from Destination Analysts found that more than 80 percent of Americans are excited to travel in the next six months. This is great news.

But there is still a long road ahead to achieve a full and even recovery. Through December, cumulative spending losses in travel spending totaled $730 billion. More than 7 percent of all leisure and hospitality jobs remain lost.

Business travel in general, and professional meetings and events specifically, are struggling to come back. International travel remains far below pre-pandemic levels. Economists estimate that domestic business travel and international inbound travel will not fully recover until 2024.

During our U.S. Travel State of the Travel Industry address this week, we laid out a vision for the future of travel in the United States, with a focus on building a more competitive and dynamic travel industry. To achieve the long-term goal of growing this vital industry for years to come, we identified several urgent priorities — including actions items that Congress and the administration should take to expedite this industry’s recovery. 

To start, business leaders need to take a hard look at the benefits of business travel. Without it, America will not experience a full recovery. And to ensure we have a strong rebound of international inbound travel, we support the passage of the Restoring Brand USA Act, which would provide emergency relief funding to the United States’s destination marketing organization. This will be especially important in rebuilding visitation to the U.S. following the steep pandemic setback in inbound travel.

An immediate pressing need is to get people back to work. With more than 1.5 million job openings in the leisure and hospitality sector, businesses have jobs to fill — especially as we look ahead to the busy summer travel season. As we rebuild our workforce, our industry must show job seekers that travel jobs are accessible, flexible, diverse and lead to rewarding, long-term careers. 

Additionally, continued restrictions and caps on temporary H-2B visas have severely hampered travel’s recovery. The administration’s recent release of additional H-2B temporary nonagricultural worker visas was a good start to address this challenge, but more is needed to ensure businesses are adequately staffed, particularly ahead of the summer travel season. U.S. Travel is working with Congress and pressing for a higher cap on H-2B and J-1 visas, as well as advocating for faster visa processing times for low-risk applicants.

Streamlining travel facilitation is another priority to improve the overall travel experience from curbside to cruising altitude. For example, biometric identification technology eases the travel process, and provides greater accuracy and a more secure travel environment. As such, we are calling on the federal government to expand biometric entry and exit systems to all ports of entry. To help move this critical technology forward, the federal government must set clear standards for privacy and security. Biometric data must be used for identification purposes only, and voluntarily. 

But a seamless travel experience doesn’t mean much if a large part of the world is unable to arrive at our ports of entry. One of the biggest challenges facing the international inbound market is the excessive wait times for visa processing. Some markets have wait times over a year. U.S. Travel has been working with the Biden administration to reopen and staff consulates as quickly as possible. Restoring visa operations worldwide will help safely return millions of visitors to the United States.

We have a clear near-term plan to revive our nation’s once-thriving travel sector. Working together now with policymakers and our industry partners, we can make bold strides to secure a bright future for travel. In doing so, we’ll help to ensure the long-term strength of a pillar of the American economy.

Roger Dow is the president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. Follow on Twitter @USTravel.

Tags #covid19 leisure and hospitality industry travel Travel visa

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