October 20, 2016, Las Vegas, Nevada. Presidential candidates Donald Trump, travel industry businessman, hotelier, and former casino magnate, and Secretary Hillary Clinton, who facilitated the expedition of visa processing for international visitors, participated in their final debate of the 2016 campaign.
The site was the Thomas and Mack Center, home of major tourism events, such as the National Finals Rodeo, and among the welcoming dignitaries was long term tourism leader Rossi Ralenkotter, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority President, and past chairman of both the United States Travel and Tourism Advisory Board and US Travel Board, as well as a current board member for Brand USA.
With that setting, an audience of industry leaders and dignitaries who are invested in tourism, and important questions relating to the national economy and the national debt being posed, do you think either of these candidates would think to mention where they were, their knowledge of the role played by travel and tourism in both the national economy and the balance of trade, and all the people either employed in the industry, as well as those who do or aspire to travel? Not this time!
With tourism being a leading industry across the country, in every state and territory and one which has bipartisan support, it would have seemed to be a perfect citation to make in Las Vegas, one of America’s most frequently visited and top destinations. If either candidate was focused on their prospective success in the swing state of Nevada, it should have been a no brainer to cite the economic impact and National Travel and Tourism Strategy, including the work of Brand USA, in their remarks.
The closest anyone got to even implying an interest in tourism was Donald Trump’s comment about staying in his beautiful Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, this is more fairly attributable to his frequent promotion of his own properties as has occurred in other campaign events, than his interest in embracing the industry.
The question therefore becomes why did neither candidate, both of whom have been so directly involved in tourism issues, miss the mark in Las Vegas?
All of us in the travel sector, especially inbound operators, need to examine this missed opportunity and expand our efforts with the incoming national administration and new Congress to redouble our messaging in order to achieve even more of the following results:
- A better understanding by administration and Congressional policy makers on the role played by tourism in our national and state economies, job growth, tax generation, and the balance of trade.
- Stronger voices on Capitol Hill advocating tourism. It is noteworthy that long time Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus, Sam Farr of California, is retiring from the House. Who will succeed him? Additionally, three of the four co-chairs of the Senate Travel and Tourism Caucus are running for re-election,as well. Senator Brian Schatz, Democratic of Hawai’i, seems assured of re-election, but Republicans Roy Blunt of Missouri and Mark Kirk of Illinois are both in tight races. Who is in line to replace either or both of them, if not re-elected?
- US Travel and the coalition of organizations it leads is doing an excellent job on making the points on the impact of the industry. 2016 presents a special opportunity. When IPW is in Washington, June 3-7, why not invite administration and Congressional leaders, especially ones dealing with the industry from the Tourism Policy Council and the authorizing and appropriations committees to walk the show with industry leaders or delegates from their home states? Experiencing the promotion and sale of America as a travel destination in person might create a huge impact, particularly if inbound operators can introduce them to some of the buyers.
Inbound tour operators can embrace these thoughts, refine them, and have an immediate impact on the incoming administration. In just a few days, we will know who the re-elected or new players will be in Washington, and the process of speaking on behalf of the inbound travel industry will begin again!