Destination USA – Leading By Example

Every once in a while – a rare occurrence as of late, but it does happen – a powerful leader exercises authority by acting with incredible humility, expressing genuine desire to learn more about an issue that is growing in importance. Such a period of learning has taken place, surprisingly, in a nation historically not known for humility – the United States of America. The issue: the value of the Tourism industry to American jobs, earnings and general wellbeing.

Trafalgar USA It all started with a flippant statement made by President Obama in 2009 at the beginning of the global economic crisis. His comment was targeted at Watt Street bankers hosting expensive conferences in Las Vegas while Main Street citizens were losing their jobs and pensions. That relatively simple comment opened up a complex process of presidential ‘re-education’, with leaders of American travel companies and associations descending on the White House, united by the US Travel Association, to set the record straight: travel, conferences and holidays create American jobs, fuel the American economy, and strengthen American competitiveness. Travel is exactly what America, and Americans need to get the economy moving again. With one of the most sought after, diverse, naturally, historically and culturally rich destinations of travellers worldwide, the United States of America has an asset that must be put to work.Since then, and to his credit, the President has taken concrete, confident steps to put travel and tourism at the centre of the American economy. Major national initiatives, from the relaunch of Brand USA (first time all states have come together with one voice), the passing of a bill regarding step-changing visa facilitation, creation of ESTA (tourist tax), increasing Consulates to issue more Visa’s in China and now the recently launched National Travel and Tourism Strategy, Significant, strategic, steps of substance which will transform the national tourism industry, quickly.As recently expressed in a White House bulletin,: “Last year, 62 million international tourists visited the United States and pumped a record $153 billion into local economies, helping to support the 7.6 million jobs in our travel and tourism industry. These numbers make tourism America’s number one service export.”

Clearly the President ‘gets it’, and is focused on getting the industry working harder, smarter, stronger, together.

I am in fact currently travelling in the Unites Sates, on Trafalgar’s Historic Highlights. I am writing from the Nation’s Capital this morning – having spent yesterday with my fellow travellers awed by the beauty of the city, poignancy of its monuments and rich history. Speaking of which we leave for Mount Vernon, George Washington’s historic estate this morning.

The global tourism community needs to take notice of this important act of leadership. Through concrete steps, the USA has ensured that it will break through destiantional clutter and showcase itself. And in doing so, positioned itself as one of the world’s loudest champions of the travel and tourism sector.

And now destination competitors!

Travel Should Be Thanked, Not Taxed

TaxesWith the world still moving from one economic crisis to the next and what appear to be no short or even medium term hope of the fundamentals changing, almost without exception, governments worldwide are becoming desperate to find ways of cutting spending and increasing revenues. Some of the their initiatives are long over due as well as some changes are for the better. Some however are ill conceived and are only going to have long term negative impacts of economies. This is especially true when it comes to the travel sector.

Those of us in the industry know well the incredible value and enjoyment that travel brings – the opportunity to discover all of the beauty, learning, meaning and fun that the world has to offer.  However what our governments often forget is that the travel industry is also responsible for millions of jobs, billions in investment, and trillions in revenues.

Travel - Rio Brazil

“Those of us in the industry know well the incredible value and enjoyment that travel brings…”

Sadly, the hard, quantitative, comprehensive value of our industry is not only being overlooked by government leaders – it is in fact being worked against. The travel industry has become an easy target for new government taxes. This because despite our size, we do not act with a collective voice and those who frequently are taxed are not local residents but the international traveller. This is shortsighted, as the impact is decreased demand.

Travellers in the UK and Euro-zone already know this painful reality all too well. The creation of new charges being applied onto travel such as APD (Air Passenger Duty), ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme), local room taxes and entry visas to name just a few of the most recent, are already acting as an increasing deterrent to travelers. Many travelers are either deciding to go elsewhere or finding they simply cannot afford to take the holiday they have always dreamt of.

Governments need to recognize that they cannot afford for travelers not to travel to their Country. It’s not about governments supporting a sector of the economy that promotes rest and play. It is about governments supporting an industry that keeps people working, keeps investors investing, and keeps visitors spending. Focus of government needs to shift. Industries that work to create jobs, investment, earnings and goodwill, need to be thanked, not taxed. Credit where it is due.