by Stephen B. Richer, CTP
In the face of a recommendation to zero out the budget of Brand USA and mixed results on various processes to gain entrance to the United States, buyers to the 2017 IPW in Washington, DC, encountered a coordinated effort to display strong welcoming messages to all international delegates.
This was particularly critical with a continuing expression for the need of a “travel ban” against certain countries and prospectively against certain populations, including Muslims, which was back in the news as the IPW delegates were arriving.
Leading voices from the podium at IPW focused on Brand USA’s message, “One BIG Welcome,” which also was a dominant theme throughout the convention in both decorations and conversations. Brand USA President Chris Thompson, U.S. Travel President Roger Dow and NYC & Company President Fred Dixon were very specific in stating all visitors who are friends to America were welcome. An important added voice to this chorus was U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, who made similar comments that the “United States was open for business” to all those who are our friends.
Feedback from the exhibition floor was very encouraging, too.
Among some of the reports were accounts that international buyers were discounting messages from the Trump Administration on curtailing visas and instead embracing the welcome messages from the American tourism industry with whom the buyers have had long-term relationships. Many of these reports came from members of IITA, who felt very optimistic after an extremely large and successful IPW.
One encouraging report came from the VIP visit of Senator Nael Raja Al-Kabariti of Jordan, a Middle Eastern elected official who serves in a leadership capacity with both Arab and Islamic chambers of commerce. This visitor found his welcome so consistent and embracing that he is considering the distribution of an opinion piece on the warmth of the American travel industry he found on his tour, which will be addressed to all his constituents.
This good news can be attributed to the excellent work by U.S. Travel, Brand USA, Destination DC and all IPW partners.
Nevertheless, there are still reports that the welcome message is being tempered by difficulty obtaining either visas or ESTA admission to the United States, which anecdotally suggests authorization to visit is becoming more difficult to obtain. Recent information from the exhibitions industry indicates that numerous regular attendees to either international meetings with rotating sites around the world or annual meetings in the United States were finding more rejections than normal.
International inbound operators should move ahead with optimism, based on the feedback from IPW, but keep their eyes and ears open for unanticipated travel access issues. International inbound tourism is still the most favorable element of international trade for the United States and our international inbound operators will know what is happening sooner and more comprehensively than any other elements in the travel sector. Be sure to report any such experiences to IITA to use in ongoing discussions and input on public policy affecting tourism.