New Year Brings New Energy and Focus on Inbound Issues

Steve Richer, DC correspondent

Issues of interest to inbound operators are seeing significant activity, as the Trump Administration moves to modify past practices and long-established procedures.

Some of the most important activities and issues of interest to  those in the international travel sector are as follows:

New national park fees and prospective funding for long-term infrastructure needs. The revision in national park fees (up to 300% higher) at highly attended sites in peak season, proposed use of receipts against the $12 billion backlog, and a system that could make it challenging to schedule visits and delay the ability to confirm groups, have all generated over 100,000 filed comments regarding increased fees for individuals and more than 4,000 regarding the proposed tour operator requirements, according to the NPS Tourism Manager Donald Leadbetter.

This is a hopeful sign for the interests of inbound operators as the Department of Interior will at least be aware that they are not making changes with an indifferent public and travel industry.  The high volume of comments is an indication that these proposals are not being well received. Many of you made comments, contacted your members of Congress and signed onto the letter sent to Secretary Zinke when asked. It is imperative to keep up the pressure, especially with Congressional contacts either directly or during Destination Capitol Hill on March 21-

Reduction in the size of national parks. Once again, a new level of activism is being experienced in response to the threat to public lands, especially national parks, illustrated by the 85 percent reduction of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and more authorized uses at other public lands, including drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). In this instance, the National Parks Conservation Association reports increased membership and donations since these decisions were made.

Again, the level of public interest in these decisions and the strength of public concern is a very positive sign.

Visa access. A federal appeals court has ruled that President Trump has exceeded his authority with the latest Travel Ban legislation, but the 9th Circuit has put the decision on hold, pending a decision by the United States Supreme Court.  This has also been a source of market confusion, as some of the countries finding it difficult to get visas are not even listed on any Travel Ban executive orders.  It remains an issue that warrants further advocacy to alleviate continued frustration for prospective international visitors who may otherwise skip travel to the United States to avoid difficulties over getting a US visa.

Federal shutdown. The current deadline to fund the federal government is January 19, unless there is a forced continuing resolution, which would postpone this decision for two weeks. Regardless of the timing, an agreement to fund the federal government beyond the deadline faces two significant obstacles for garnering enough votes. First, there is an established limit of $549 billion in defense spending and $516 billion in non-defense spending, both less than the Trump Administration is requesting. Conservatives in Congress are loath to make any increases, thereby requiring a bipartisan vote to pass continuing funding on any increased budget.

Secondly, a bipartisan agreement is threatened by the mixed messages from President Trump that he will not resolve the key issue for Democrats of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) without funding for his “wall” on the southern border.

For international inbound operators, a federal government shutdown could be critical.  In October 2013 during the last time this occurred, it resulted in closed national parks and hurt tour operators significantly.  Vigilance in the next week is essential.

Offshore oil drilling. The Department of Interior has targeted the entire coast of the United States and opened hundreds of new sites to drilling through 2024, thereby threatening both the fishing industry and tourism. This decision was announced on January 5, but waters off the coast of Florida were exempted less than five days later for the benefit of coastal tourism.

Advocacy works!  IITA members should speak to their members of Congress about these issues to influence decisions impacting international inbound visitation.

This is a short version of what is happening at we enter 2018.  More updates will be available at the IITA Summit in Portland early next month.

See you there!