Greetings From Your Chairman

November 8, 2018
By Gary Schluter, IITA Board Chairman
Rocky Mountain Holiday Tours

Greetings to everyone!  I hope that everyone voted in this week’s election, especially since many of you are traveling for WTM and other conferences. With the election results, we will begin to see what the new split Congress will mean for travel and tourism.  As we have found out, politics can have a direct effect on tourism.

One area that we need EVERYONE’S support on immediately, is the new issue of funding for Brand USA.  It seems that an “error” took away the funds designated to Brand USA from the VWP (Visa Waiver Program) and now these funds can be used for any other project that Congress may decide upon.  We need everyone to contact their congressional delegations to have the funds once again placed where they were initially intended—to Fund Brand USA and our federal promotions around the world!  At this time, we need all the help we can get.

As tne study reported at the International Mountain Tourism conference in China last month, the USA had already dropped from the 5th most popular country to visit for persons on holiday from China—down to number 11!  If we lose the critical funding for Brand USA, this will become just one statistic among many!  You should have received an email yesterday from IITA that provides a form letter you can send on to your congressional representatives in hopes that we can get this resolved once again—and soon!

Last week I attended the Colorado Governor’s Tourism Conference in beautiful Vail.  I heard an interesting statistic, and one that we must all pay attention to as we work on our future planning. In 1990, 90% of the world’s middle class was found in North America (USA/Canada specifically) and Western Europe.  By 2030, 85% of this world’s middleclass will be found in Asia and South America.  Less than 15% will be in what we might call our traditional travel markets.  So, it’s time to get ready for burgeoning travel markets!

Once again, I hope everyone had a chance to vote for their favorite state and local candidates.  And do remember to register for Summit 2019 in Savannah!  It is going to be another fantastic event for IITA!  One you do not want to miss!

 

October 24, 2018
By Gary Schluter, IITA Board Chairman
Rocky Mountain Holiday Tours

Greetings my friends.  I will have to admit that the past couple of weeks have been very hectic.  As the Chairman of IITA, I was asked to be a speaker at two programs in China. The first program was for the International Mountain Tourism Alliance annual conference in  Guiyang. IMTA was established to protect mountain tourism resources, facilitate international tourism exchanges and promote the sustainable development of mountain and eco-tourism.

With the work IITA has been doing with the National Park Service to enhance the visitor experience of America’s natural treasures – and the fact that I live in and serve one of the most dramatic mountain ranges in the U.S. – I was asked to speak about the “Rocky Mountains.” I talked about Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs and then the many National Parks/Monuments that were set aside to preserve either a single mountain (like Mt Rainier) or a mountain range (like Grand Teton).  I explained how IITA is working as an association to present an “industry” perspective to the National Park Service as well as helping the NPS develop an etiquette standard for visitors to the national parks, as they are often mis-used due to cultural differences.

The main request was to discuss how we work with the NPS to help them to maintain a balance between promoting to visiting guest and sustainability of the park resources.  One of the big problems with Chinese travelers is that around 50% of all of their “domestic” travel is in a two week period (Chinese New Year and Golden Week). So they too have a problem with overcrowding, but only during these two one-week periods.

As part of a VIP group that included the Honorary Chairman of the UN-World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Former Prime Ministers of France and S. Korea, Park Superintendent from Brazil, and Cultural Minister from Mt Kilimanjaro/Kenya, we went to Xingyi, a most beautiful city in a mountain region.  Here I was invited to attend the opening ceremony of the Mountain Travel and Outdoor Sports Conference.  The theme was to be centered on how various mountain regions looked at sustainability with a panel that represented mountains in Europe, Africa, New Zealand, Russia, Mt Everest, Japan, Korea, and, several in China.  Once again I was the lone American (or North American for that matter) participating in this program.

It was a most interesting program and the local government in China paid for all expenses.  I feel that it gave some good name recognition for IITA. I would like to say Thank You to Floy Kennedy (Visit Colorado Springs) and Haybina Hao for the referrals to myself and IITA for giving us the opportunity to part of this larger tourism conversation.

October 11, 2018
By Gary Schluter, IITA Board Chairman
Rocky Mountain Holiday Tours

A summer of natural disasters.  I started my company 32 years ago and it seems that every summer we have natural (and sometimes man-made) disasters.  It seems like Mother Nature is always doing the best possible job to try to make all of us work a little harder.  Guess I should have known what was coming as the company started in 1987 and the very next year, 1988, Yellowstone was closed for most of the summer due to fires that burned almost 50% of the huge park.

Over the years, here in the West, we have had fires in almost every park and flooding in areas where we never would have predicted a flood – like roads washed out in Death Valley!  We have had government shutdowns that closed the National Parks and so many other problems through the years. And I know our partners who work along the east coast are having more and more problems as hurricanes seem to get bigger and more devastating year after year. This year with the fires in California and throughout the western USA, it just seemed to go on and on and on – and all we could do was work on a day-by-day basis praying that the fires would be out as quickly as possible.

The silver lining, perhaps, to all of these problems is that all of the international tour operators, wherever they may be around the world, appreciate more and more the service aspect of working with a U.S. Inbound Tour Operator (ITO)!  We are here, on the ground, working to help their clients find a way around these disasters and still enjoy as much of their travels as possible.  No one can predict what will come next…like flash floods in Northern AZ that wash out roads in isolated desert regions that are a major route between two major attractions (Grand Canyon and Page).  Who would have predicted/!  But our international partners know that when working with an IITA member ITO, they will have someone in the USA working to help them make the best of the situations we are dealt.

After a long, hot summer (or wet and flooding fall), we can all be proud to say we did our best to help our international visitors have an enjoyable experience.  One more reason to say “I’m an Inbound Insider” as we – the IITA inbound travel experts know how to give our guests the best possible American Experience!  Let’s keep up the good work.  And see everyone in Savannah in a few short months!

 

September 27, 2018
By Gary Schluter, IITA Board Chairman
Rocky Mountain Holiday Tours

Fall has arrived in Colorado after a record-setting number of 90-plus degree days in September (and more to come). But today is very “autumn-like” and so my thoughts are moving towards the winter travel schedule.

On the top of my list is the 2019 IITA Summit in Savannah, February 3-6.  As always, the Summit committee is working diligently to put together some dynamic education sessions that will give helpful information to all sectors of our membership! I always look forward to the educational programs, often having a difficult time choosing which to attend, as I always find several of the concurring programs to be of interest.

The Summit will also feature the Operator Forum that in the past has been very beneficial in helping the Board as it decides priorities in education and advocacy for the year. Additionally, the Summit Committee has added a speed networking session to make sure you don’t miss meeting with anyone you came to see.

I know that Savannah is going “all out” to see that this will be the best Summit ever.  And they know the bar was set high by Portland in 2018!

I suggest you register early. ITOs can register at this time, while suppliers and DMOs  will soon also be able to sign up.  I know you do not want to miss out on the early-bird rates, so be sure to get your forms filled out and returned as quickly!  And I look forward to seeing EVERYONE in Savannah, y’all!

September 13, 2018
By Gary Schluter, IITA Board Chairman
Rocky Mountain Holiday Tours

This will be my last column of the summer—as with the next newsletter we will be heading into the Fall of 2019. I do hope that this has been a good summer for all of you. Fall and winter for my company means the booking season for next summer, and it is starting out at a pace that makes 2019 look to be another good season.

Last week I was in Florida attending the La Cita des las Americas conference. This was an interesting show for me as it was my first time to work exclusively with the Latin American markets. In conversation with many potential members, I was often asked what the most beneficial aspect of IITA was for our members.

My response was that we listen to our members to find out how we can assist, as an association, to address problems and concerns they are having with their inbound business, as we do, for example, during our Operator Forums held during Summit and various locations throughout the year.

I learned that inbound operators working the Latin American markets are more concerned about visa issues and the Visa Waiver Program (that we hope will soon be called the Trusted Traveler Partnership) than national parks access which is one of our top advocacy issues. So it’s important for us to listen to ensure we’re addressing the broad needs of the inbound industry.

While in Fort Lauderdale, IITA Vice Chair Peter Van Berkel and I had dinner with Donny Leadbetter (NPS) and I feel that we deepened our understanding as to how we can improve relations between NPS and our sector of the travel industry. So we will continue to work on the important issues related to the new CUA requirements and proposed reservation system. In fact, a coalition of travel associations – ABA, IMG, NTA, OMCA, SYTA, UMA and USTOA – have signed on to our Issues Paper about these developments which will be delivered next week to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

In other significant news, we are all watching Hurricanes Florence and Olivia quickly approaching the U.S. in the Atlantic and Pacific. As you may have seen yesterday from the National Travel and Tourism Office announcement, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has activated the National Business Emergency Operations Center (NBEOC) for these storms and is holding a daily coordinating call in which FEMA will provide updates of the situation on the ground and then open the line for questions. The calls will be held at 3 p.m. EDT each day and following is the call in number and links to the dashboards they are keeping up to date:
Teleconference Information: 1-888-877-0354
Participant passcode: 9132924

NBEOC Atlantic Dashboard: https://fema.connectsolutions.com/nbeocatlantic
NBEOC Pacific Dashboard: https://fema.connectsolutions.com/nbeocpacific

As we become aware of additional resources we will house them on our website for easy access here. If you have news you wish to share with IITA members about your destinations, please let us know and we’ll help get the word out.

For anyone in the line of these storms— our thoughts and prayers are with you all!

Registration starts soon for our 2019 Summit Savanah…so be watching and get your registrations in early—and if you have not renewed your membership, now’s the time to renew so you’ll be ready to register! Going to be a great show in an absolutely charming location!

 

August 30, 2018
By Gary Schluter, IITA Board Chairman
Rocky Mountain Holiday Tours

Welcome to the “official” end of summer.  With Labor Day only a few days away and snow in Montana and Wyoming, I don’t know where this summer went, but it seems like just a few short weeks ago we were all getting together for the fun IITA reception event held prior to IPW Denver.

I was looking through the Facebook photos the other day and thinking of this and the many other events we have had over the past few months.  It HAS been a busy time for IITA.

Last week, I was privileged to represent IITA out in California at the Marina del Rey on the beautiful Hornblower “Entertainer.” It was a great evening of cruising in the marina with perfect temperatures and some great guests—whom I hope will very soon become new IITA members—and possibly even a new sustaining member looking for ways to help sponsor future events.  Thank you to Isaac and Mia from Hornblower for making the evening possible—and a success!

On September 13, IITA will host another event in Florida, a breakfast at Planet Hollywood.  Please tell anyone you feel should become a member that this important event is one to put on the calendar. They can find out all that we are doing to help the industry and our members.

The Department of Commerce just announced the new members of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board. Unfortunately, they reduced the size of the Board, and I was not reappointed for a second term. Although, IITA Advocacy Committee Member Denise Thevenot, with Louisiana Tax Free Shopping was reappointed among other IITA member representatives, it would appear as if Secretary Ross has forgotten the significance of inbound operators in bringing international guests to the USA!  We will continue to ensure our voice is heard through various government channels to keep inbound operators in these important conversations.

But in better news, U.S. Travel is forming a working task force to address the legislative (and agency) positions for the NPS on CUA and reservation systems.  I will be a member of this task force and we are hoping to have a couple more ITOs represented on the force as well.

So, as we officially head into fall, I hope everyone had a great summer season in 2018 and are looking forward to a great fall/winter season. I know everyone is already working hard for 2019, but remember among all of your planning, the IITA Summit in Savannah will be here soon!  Be sure to have Feb. 3 – 6 on your calendar for the 2019 Summit.  Registration opens soon!

And one last note–our VERY hard-working executive director has spent a couple of days in the hospital. We all wish her a very speedy and full recovery!

 

August 16, 2018
By Gary Schluter, IITA Board Chairman
Rocky Mountain Holiday Tours

Two weeks ago, the Board and several committees met for a planning retreat in Sarasota Fla. First, I would like to thank Visit Sarasota County for hosting the IITA group —and also a thank you to the Hyatt Regency and the Ritz Carlton for hosting our receptions.

On Friday, we started with a full leadership discussion to review the Strategic Plan and a demo presentation of IITA’s new education program – Inbound Insider Steps to Success. The program has now been offered in three communities. In Philadelphia, Savannah and Jeckyll Island. The program has been received with rave reviews and left participants not only educated but asking for Part 2 of the program, so they can learn more about working with inbound operators.

The committees met on Friday afternoon for their first in-person meetings, which gave them the opportunity to be more productive to bounce ideas off of other committee members for better planning. The Board meeting took place on Saturday with each of the committee representatives presenting the results of their meetings to the Board.

All in all, it was a very productive two days of meetings. With the help of the committees, the Board was able to advance the direction of IITA–from Summit planning and a revamped Awards program, to critical advocacy initiatives and governance improvements, the leadership came away with several new ideas to help our membership!

My thanks also to EVERYONE who attended for taking the time to make IITA a priority and all of your input into the direction of our programming.

This week, I am looking forward to travelling to Marina del Rey for one of our networking events hosted by Hornblower—and the chance to meet with many new potential members to help us move the association forward.

 

 

July 19, 2018
By Gary Schluter, IITA Board Chairman
Rocky Mountain Holiday Tours

Greetings! Well, we are into the middle of July—sort of the Wednesday of the Summer Peak Season and a very busy time for everyone as it’s the peak season for international visitors to come to the USA. We all look forward to the “off season,” although I must admit I have not found an “off season” period for several years, and instead we just move from one busy period into another.

This is also the case with IITA, your Board and staff! This group works from one project to the next on programs that we feel not only benefit our members—but the inbound travel Industry!

In two weeks, we will be meeting for our summer Board retreat in Sarasota, Florida, for two days of what I know will become intense discussions on how to move forward with our program priorities, like putting together some final comments on changes to fees and transportation plans for the National Parks as well as creating best practices for the industry (groups and individuals) that the NPS can use to make the visitor experience even better.

For group visitors, we feel that these practices can be managed through the maintenance of the CUA program. Companies that do not follow the practices should find it much more difficult to obtain CUA approval to enter the parks in future years. And we’ll be looking at how we can work with the industry for our own best practices for inbound operator members so everyone is playing on an even playing field (regulations, tour guides, etc.) to demonstrate the professionalism of IITA members.

We will also look into ways to make a good program even better—the Summit–including education, marketplace and updating the awards program. Other committees will be working on membership development/benefits and governance to ensure our leadership is always operating with the highest integrity.

A part of the meeting will also be focused on where IITA should be putting our emphasis into future programs and projects. Here I would like to invite anyone with a subject they feel should be considered to please forward it to either Lisa Simon or me. I feel that IITA advocacy and education are two very strong ways that we work on behalf of our members—and we DO want to hear from you on areas we should address!

 

July 5, 2018
By Gary Schluter, IITA Board Chairman
Rocky Mountain Holiday Tours

 

Greetings!

I hope everyone had a happy Independence Day!  I do not know how we got to July so quickly but will pass this along as “getting older.”

Last week, I made a quick drive up to Rapid City, S.D. to attend the Western States Tourism Policy Council. Most of the meeting was devoted to National Parks issues in follow up to the WSTPC meeting we participated in during IPW in May. At that time, we began a discussion with Ben Cassidy, Senior Deputy Director for External and Intergovernmental Affairs for the Dept of Interior, and NPS about concerns from the travel industry regarding recently announced CUA (Commercial Use Authorization) requirements for tour operators and a proposed reservation system under consideration. (See  our Washington Correspondent, Steve Richer’s, article below for more details.)

The meeting gave us the opportunity to present possible solutions and best practices to Mr. Cassidy and the western states Travel Directors. I must say, they were quite impressed that we were able to present to them some very solid suggested solutions and to have garnered support from our coalition of industry partners in just a month following the initial meeting.

I emphasized that what we were presenting was a “beginning” as we work to get more information and suggestions together for a final report, which will be sent to Secretary Zinke by September, and that we want to work in tandem with DOI and NPS for mutually beneficial solutions.

The park entrance fees for vehicles has already started to go into effect in some parks, with a staggered fee increase between now and Oct 2019 being offered for private vehicles— this pretty much looks to be final—and something that we have informed NPS and DOI we support.  However, the fee increase coupled with the CUA program, will be troublesome for our members. From the discussion with Mr. Cassidy, we may still have an opportunity to have these issues under review, especially as they directly violate an executive order signed by President Trump “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Cost”.

Our Best Practices Committee has been working on best practices for tour operators and tour guides, a draft of which was included in the report. While we have been discussing this with the National Park Service for some time, we understand that NPS is also working on best practices for tour operators. I requested that the Industry be given a voice in helping to establish the best practices rather than having the industry and NPS working separately.  This is a position that was strongly supported by the Travel Directors present and one that Ben Cassidy was taking back to DC for discussion.

All in all it was a very interesting couple of hours—and I felt extremely proud to show that IITA is taking a lead in helping our members with these important issues.

The work of the Advocacy and Best Practices Committees here will be most helpful in forming our final reports to Interior Secretary Zinke.

And again—for our Board and Committees—I look forward to seeing you all in Florida in a few weeks.

 

 

June 21, 2018
By Gary Schluter, IITA Board Chairman
Rocky Mountain Holiday Tours

Greetings from Colorado – I hope your summer is starting out well.

As a small membership organization, committees are the way we can help with the planning and work that we do as an organization. We have several committees at this time: Membership, Advocacy, Marketing, Summit, Best Practices, Governance, and Awards Task Force. Each was designed to help the Board and management team as the organization continues to move forward and become more involved and relevant.

Over the past few years, the Board of Directors, supported by the Advisory Board, has been engaged in strategic planning to build on the momentum of our rebrand. This year, we’ve invited our committees to join us at the summer retreat to put the strategic plan into action, as we feel that a face to face meeting of each committee will help better define their priorities and enable each committee to “gel” into a strong working group. It will also be easier for committees to get direct input from other Board Members during this period.

Our summer retreat will actually be in the summer (last year we had a great retreat at the Blair’s Ranch at Ucross, but not until October). It will be in Sarasota Florida Aug. 3-4 with our committees meeting on Aug. 3. Then, on Saturday, Aug. 4, we will have the Board of Directors meeting—this is a planning meeting as we approved the budget while in Denver and now need to set our priorities so that we can tackle all of the programs and projects we hope to accomplish over the coming year. I hope to see a strong showing in Sarasota as I know Visit Sarasota is planning a fun time for our group while we are in this community.

One quick advocacy note: I will be in Rapid City next week to give an update to the Western States Tourism Policy Council with some ideas and insights on road-based commercial tour requirements, fees and reservation systems for National Parks.

 

June 7, 2018
By Gary Schluter, IITA Board Chairman
Rocky Mountain Holiday Tours

Greetings!
I know that many of you were in Denver two weeks ago attending the 50th anniversary of IPW. Denver put on a great show for everyone—hope you stayed for the final night presentation at Red Rocks, as this was one of the best closing nights I have seen—and this was IPW (Pow Wow) number 39 for me! IITA had a strong presence at the show this year…

Board Meeting. One of our in-person board meetings annually is held on Saturday preceding IPW and this year’s was a productive meeting. A budget passed for our next fiscal year and many reports and updates on our advocacy, membership, education, and a preview of the new magazine – Inbound Insider – that was presented at appointments during the show.

First-Timer Orientation. As IITA Chair, I served on a panel to present information and “clues” on how to make the most of IPW to a ballroom full of first time attendees.

Western States Tourism Policy Council. Recognized as an authority on national parks issues based on our recent advocacy work, IITA was invited by WSTPC to speak on the impact new national park requirements will have on commercial tour operators. Also in attendance were representative of the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior. WSTPC, which is comprised of the State Travel Directors of 15 western states, and IITA continue to work with NPS and DOI on the new CUA fees and requirements as well as the proposed reservation system for Arches National Park.

Sunday IITA Reception. We had a great turnout of more than100 members and nonmembers at our networking event at Le Meridien hotel prior to IPW’s Opening Event. Thanks to Sustaining Member Marriott International and Le Meridien for making our reception a memorable event.
IPW Meetings – We had three days of appointments both in the booth AND roaming the hall to give out information on IITA…we even signed up one new ITO member right at the show – welcome to inbound incentive operator TIG Tours! Lots of interest in membership and for the Inbound Insider Steps to Success training program!

Inbound Insider. Our new magazine debuted and was well received new by members and industry friends. The publication includes a membership directory and will be distributed to inbound operators and international operators/buyers. Make sure you re-up your membership so that you will be in this annual publication again next year.

And now we can turn our attention to our Summer Retreat in Sarasota, Florida in early August – where for the first time, committee members will join the Board and Advisory Board to work on programs and strategies driven by the IITA Strategic Plan. Hope to see all of the Board, our committee members and Sustaining members at this program—easy in and out from Tampa!

I would also like to say a heartfelt THANK YOU to the many members who took the time to send their thoughts, prayers and condolences on the passing of my father just after the IPW show. I can only say he was 92 and lived a very fulfilling life, leaving all who knew him with a lot of happy memories.

 

May 10, 2018
By Gary Schluter, IITA Board Chairman
Rocky Mountain Holiday Tours

Greetings from Colorado where we are getting ready to host the 50th IPW, just over a week away. IITA will be present and working for our members—and introducing potential new members to all IITA has to offer.

Your leadership is hard at work for you. Over the past two weeks, our committees have been very busy with conference call meetings, even as everyone gets ready for their IPW presentations and appointments.  And we’ll kick off IPW with our “in-person” Board meeting on Saturday afternoon.  Many of our members have receptions and programs planned for Saturday evening, so if you’re already in Denver and would like to sit in on the Board meeting, you are more than welcome – just let our staff know at headquarters@inboundtravel.org and we’ll get the time and location to you.

We have a busy schedule during IPW. Sunday morning, I will participate on the panel for IPW’s Orientation Session, along with Tilo Krause-Duenow, from CANUSA and (IITA Board member), Robert Graff from Papillion Helicopters. Then, executive director Lisa Simon and a few of our Board members will attend the Western States Policy Council meeting for a discussion on the National Parks with the state travel directors of the western states. This session is to find ways that IITA and the state tourism offices can assist the NPS to educate ALL travelers with Park etiquette. Sunday evening, I look forward to seeing ALL of you—along with any guest you feel would be interested in hearing more about IITA and becoming future members—at the Annual IITA Pre-opening Reception!

During the three days of meetings that will follow, Lisa and her crew have set up appointments (as many as two per session) with international operators and inbound operators as well as suppliers and DMOs, as we look to educate them on WHO we are, WHAT we are doing for our members, and HOW to become more involved!  With the parks and other issues that we are working on, membership is becoming more and more important.  Not just to our inbound operators, but to our suppliers who depend on the inbound travelers.  We hope that many more will see the importance of our work and even learn more about our Sustaining Membership category!  Again, if you know of  any prospective members=—have them contact Lisa about a meeting at this important show.

Denver is expecting to host over 6,200 at IPW this year, the first time the event has been in Denver since 1991!  And, yes, there are a few of us who remember when it was there before.  From the opening night at the Performing Arts to the final night with the concert at Red Rocks, this is going to be a great show.  I look forward to seeing EVERYONE there—starting with the Board Meeting on Saturday, and especially at the Sunday “Pre-Opening” Reception (an easy walk to IPW’s opening event)! And remember to say—I AM AN INBOUND INSIDER!   And this is the show to prove it!

 

April 26, 2018
By Gary Schluter, IITA Board Chairman
Rocky Mountain Holiday Tours

Once again, greetings from the Chairman’s Corner. The past couple of newsletters I have been talking about our travels to Destination DC in late March, discussing our meetings with the Department of the Interior and other issues discussed in our meetings with Congressional delegations, including Open Skies and airport infrastructure funding.

Another issue we discussed with decision makers while in D.C. was the proposed fee hike for national parks entrance, an issue we have asked members to get involved in for several months. For individual vehicles entering the National Parks, the park entrance fee increases will be far less than what was originally proposed.

At this time, IITA is still working with the NPS to clarify the proposed funding for the commercial vehicles as they look toward requiring CUAs (Commercial Use Authorizations) in many of the parks, as well as per-person entrance fees. These will be less than the original proposed fees but can still be a significant jump over what is being charged in 2018-19 peak periods. This is because of the combination of fees commercial operators will have to pay: CUA application fees plus per-person entrance fees/management fees. The implementation may roll out differently in each park, so keep an eye out for updates at the National Park Service site for the travel trade: www.nps.gov/tourismprogram.

A final talking point to the Congressional delegations is the funding of Brand USA. Although Congress has established the funding source through 2027, it seems the funds are currently directed to fund Brand USA thru 2020. It was our push to get congress to fix this inefficiency and authorize the use of the funds for Brand USA as they were originally established.

IITA strongly backs Brand USA and its promotions to bring visitors to the U.S. and feel honored to have Cathy Domanico as one of our Honorary Board members. Our industry also has a representative on the Brand USA board with the appointment of Noel Hentschell to this position. Our segment of the inbound industry IS being recognized and being heard.

Let’s keep this momentum going! And again—see everyone soon at IPW-2018 Denver—the 50th year for IPW!

 

April 12, 2018
By Gary Schluter, IITA Board Chairman
Rocky Mountain Holiday Tours

Today, the Department of Interior’s National Park Service announced its decision regarding its proposed fee structure that had included peak-season fee increases applied to 17 parks during their five-month peak season.

In response to extensive feedback from IITA and others in the industry, as well as the public, NPS has changed the original proposal to address concerns while still focusing on the need to improve aging infrastructure and enhance the visitor experience at National Parks. Details about the more modest fee increases announced today can be found in the article that follows.

One of the issues we brought to the attention of the Congressional delegations during Destination Capitol Hill last month that will impact travelers we bring into the country is infrastructure. I previously addressed the backlog of projects required by the National Parks, but we also discussed the improvements needed for many (if not all) of the major airports in the USA.

When you see a list of the top 25 international airports around the world, the U.S. has no airports on this list. None.

To help the airports with the funds they need for improvements, we were requesting an increase in the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC). This is a fee that airports can opt into to help them with facility improvements, including international immigration and customs areas. At this time the fee is set at a maximum of $4.50 per person. We’re proposing to change this to a maximum of $8.50 per person, adding an additional $4 maximum to an airline ticket.

This fee is opposed by the airlines, which have a strong lobbying presence in Washington D.C. But, it would help with a much-needed infrastructure backlog at many of our airports, and airports have the option of charging the fee or opting out. It is not a mandatory fee, just one that we feel would help improve the overall experience of our inbound visitors. So when you are reaching out to your Members of Congress, both in the Senate and House, please let them know that this issue, proposed and backed by U.S. Travel, is also an important need for the international inbound experience.

~END~

 

March 29, 2018
By Gary Schluter, IITA Board Chairman
Rocky Mountain Holiday Tours

It was an interesting week in Washington, D.C. recently for Destination Capitol Hill and the U.S. Travel Association Board Meeting. As someone from Colorado, my first thought was that it does not take a lot to shut down the government in D.C.—when it comes to snow, that is.

IITA (represented by myself, Lisa Simon, Gerrit De Vos, and Petra Hackworth) made the best of the inclement weather, braving the snow and heading to Capitol Hill to meet with the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. We were happy to escape the weather later in the day, as the afternoon program was back at the hotel.

The following day was full of meetings, which included the National Park Service and the House Committee on Natural Resources, before we each headed off in different directions to meet up with our state delegations in the House and Senate.

Priority issues included:

  • Funding for Brand USA (although the source of funding for Brand USA is secured thru 2027, it is only dedicated to Brand USA thru 2020)
  • Airport Infrastructure (support airport improvement by raising the optional Passenger Facility Charge from $4.50 to $8.50)
  • National Parks (secure sufficient annual funding for the National Parks and support legislation that would fund infrastructure backlog for the next several years)
  • Preserving Open Skies (supporting appropriate air capacity to help increase the number of visitors to the USA)

The Senate and House Committee personnel were fully aware of the possible problems faced by the travel industry with the proposed fee increases and park reservation systems, but felt that these are controlled primarily by the National Park Service/Dept of Interior and not under legislative control. They review programs, but cannot set policy. There is talk of a bill that would change this and require Congressional passage of any future rate increases—something that the NPS did not particularly like!

My Colorado team met with both Colorado Senators and four of our state’s Representatives. All seemed to listen to our remarks, and especially seemed concerned over the National Park issues, indicating they believed this was definitely a bi-partisan problem. Only a couple of them felt  this was an issue that required action on their part, primarily Senator Gardner and Representative Polis (Rocky Mountain Park is in his district). I plan to follow up with the two of them more fully over the next couple of weeks.

The most interesting meeting was with Christine Williamson, Fee Program Manager for the NPS. We learned about a long-range fee study to get under way in the near future that will analyze the fee structure for all National Parks. As an example, one option mentioned was going to a per person/per day fee for both private vehicles and coaches.

But we were also told that a higher fee structure WILL be announced very soon—maybe even by the end of this week—that will be comparable to the fees that have been proposed over the past several months. We were told the fee hikes would not be as significant as those in the proposal, at least for individual vehicles. For coaches, there would be an 18-month advance notice period before fee changes would go into effect. She could not tell us any more specifically what the new fee structure would be.

As for the problem with reservation systems, although this is a park-by-park decision, Ms. Williamson felt that a more coordinated effort on the federal level would be something to review. Regarding the CUAs for coaches, we discussed that since the federal government is going to require these in at least the 17 most popular parks, that it would be a good thing to make them more standardized and have one central area where tour operators/coach companies can go to apply. Finally, she felt that the NPS and Brand USA should work more closely together to help promote all National Parks—and not just the 17 most visited parks!

The US Travel Association Board Meeting was focused on what they have accomplished over the past year as well as some other areas where they will be placing more emphasis in the coming months. In addition to the four issues that were discussed on Capitol Hill, they are also advocating for expansion of the Visa Waiver Program, work on Trusted Traveler Programs, and easing Customs and Entry areas. Project Time Off and Travel Talks are still high-priority programs for US Travel.

Finally, as it is now just over seven weeks away—hope everyone is prepared for IPW Denver!