Presidential Nominees Seem Likely to Agree on Most Travel Issues

With the two major political parties having named their respective nominees–former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the Democrats and businessman Donald Trump for the Republicans, it appears likely that travel and tourism could be one of the areas in which they share some common ground.

The US Travel Association, umbrella group for the travel industry, is busy generating support for the national tourism agenda by working the issues and being visible at both of the two conventions through a series of advertising messages about the value of travel, as well as publicizing the economic impact of the conventions themselves.

Keeping tourism issues at the forefront is good for business and good for the national economy.

Let’s take a look at where they may stand on three of the key issues that continue to be on the national tourism agenda and are critical to inbound tour operators.

First of all, the continuation of the Travel Promotion Act and its primary impact, the creation and operation of Brand USA, the marketing arm of the United States, will continue.  With a new lifespan of an additional five years authorized in 2014, Brand USA will be in place through 2020.

This means the excellent work being done by this organization, whose board is appointed by the Secretary of Commerce, should continue to deliver for America through the entire new administration and work hard to meet the goal set by President Barack Obama of 100 million annual inbound visitors by 2021.  What a great national goal for our part of the industry!

Are both Trump and Clinton likely to maintain this support for an organization which has been such a big contribution to an improved balance of trade for the United States through inbound tourism?  Yes.

Both Republicans and Democrats have strongly supported the Travel Promotion Act, so it is unlikely that this will change, especially since there are no tax dollars involved and the private sector match of more than $100 million a year is impressive.

It helps that Donald Trump himself is a long standing tourism leader and certainly understands the industry. Hillary Clinton, particularly as Secretary of State, knows that inbound tourism is a key element in achieving global peace and understanding.

Are there any aspects of this legislation to watch?  Yes, there is always the possibility that voices believing that there is no government role in tourism marketing could be raised when the Travel Promotion Act needs to be reauthorized before 2020.  Is this likely? No.  Should we make sure that those voices are not raised in the next four years?  Absolutely!

Secondly, there is the issue of visa accessibility and increased visa waiver countries.  This is going to be a much more challenging issue for all of us.

With the increasing amount of terrorism across the world with a lot of it occurring in Europe, previously considered to be relatively safe destinations, there is certainly more resistance to expanding visa waiver than there has been in recent years.  If anything, more restrictive visa policies are entirely possible.

Of the three issues discussed in this column, this one is the issue with which there will be the most disagreement.  While Secretary Clinton is most likely to support at least the current level of visa access and number of visa waiver countries, due to the role played by the State Department on this matter under her tenure, Mr. Trump will probably seek to reduce both visa access and the number of visa waiver countries, despite the rigorous procedures employed before anyone either receives a visa or is approved through the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization).

How do we know this?  Trump’s comments that he wants to suspend entry by certain people based on their religion or even if they come from a country, such as France, where there is significant terrorism.  Such comments totally discount the time tested procedures developed by the Departments of Homeland Security and State, in order to keep our visa practices so sound.

Any change in visa policy could impact inbound tourism, so, on this issue, we must be vigilant, in order that international visitation is not negatively affected.

The third issue is improving infrastructure.  On this matter, there probably is a high degree of common support from Clinton and Trump.

With no American airport ranking in the top 25 worldwide, over a trillion dollars worth of road, bridge, and tunnel infrastructure repair backlog, comparatively limited intermodal transportation between airports and city centers, and the dependence of the travel industry on all of these transportation elements being in excellent condition, this is a critical issue for inbound operators and the industry in general.

Fortunately, both Trump and Clinton are both strongly committed to improving America’s infrastructure.  Both have spoken about it and both seem to have an appetite to put more federal resources into this backlog.

The FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act, passed just this year, provides $207 billion in the next five years to address some of this backlog.  It’s not enough.

Having both major party candidates committed to improving infrastructure, the question is only how much more will be recommended and appropriated by the next administration.  That will be the issue in the next four years, one which will require a lot of hard work to ensure that the biggest appropriations are authorized.  Clinton has outlined a “down payment” on the infrastructure, while Trump has recognized the entire over one trillion dollar backlog without giving too much specificity.

Should we be optimistic on this matter?  Yes.  Both candidates have spoken out strongly on infrastructure:  Donald Trump has positioned himself as the “only one who can fix it,” given his background as a builder, and Clinton cited infrastructure as a major new job creation program.

So, there you have it.  Three issues, two with a general consensus and only the size and degree of the commitment to monitor and one with some divisiveness and work to do.

Take a hard look at these three issues and watch how they play out in the next 100 days in order to determine which candidate will serve tourism best.