Travel leaders, U.S. Dept. of Commerce meet on business travel recovery

The U.S. Travel Association led a delegation of 11 travel industry leaders to the U.S. Department of Commerce for a discussion with U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves focused on promoting safe business and professional travel in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and opportunities to help the travel and tourism sector fully and evenly recover.

At the meeting, Graves voiced his support for the travel industry, saying the Commerce Department will bring “all tools to the table” to help overcome obstacles that remain to the normal resumption of business travel, both domestically and from abroad.

Discussion topics ranged from the reentry of urban office workers and its correlation to the restart of business travel to the distinctions of professionally produced meetings and events, as well as opportunities to attract global meetings, conventions and exhibitions to the U.S.

“We appreciate the focus of our federal partners on rebuilding business and professional travel and their commitment to restoring this sector of the U.S. economy and workforce,” said Roger Dow, president/CEO, U.S. Travel Association. “The travel industry is seizing every opportunity extended to quickly recover—particularly as business travel, conferences and conventions and trade events nationwide continue to lag. Special thanks go to Deputy Secretary Graves for meeting with our industry today and offering the agency’s support, as well as to Secretary Gina Raimondo for her leadership on rebuilding America’s travel economy.”

Total business travel remained at just 47% of 2019 levels in 2021—and group meetings and events were at a meager 36% of 2019 levels. Based on the latest U.S Travel forecast, business travel recovery is not expected until 2024.

Dow was optimistic following the roundtable that government and industry can work hand in hand to more quickly restore the travel sector. “A complete recovery of the U.S. economy is directly related to the full and even recovery of America’s travel industry,” he said.

He encouraged administration and government officials to send consistent and clear messages to the American public and the world that it is safe to travel again, particularly for vaccinated individuals.

Among policies that U.S. Travel and its Meetings Mean Business Coalition recommends:

  • The creation of temporary tax incentives to encourage business travel and spending on entertainment services.
  • The creation of a partnership with U.S. destinations and venues to help secure high-value international meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE).
  • The repeal of the pre-departure testing requirement for all fully vaccinated inbound international arrivals.
  • Additional H-2B, J-1 and other temporary work visas available to meet seasonal workforce needs, among others.
  • Restoring visa services and taking steps to modernize the visa process—including by waiving interviews for low-risk renewals, allowing videoconferencing and/or offering group visa processing.

Attendees to the U.S. Department of Commerce roundtable were:

  • Don Graves, deputy secretary of Commerce
  • Roger Dow, president/CEO, U.S. Travel Association
  • Tori Emerson Barnes, EVP, public affairs and policy, U.S. Travel Association
  • Julie Coker, president/CEO, San Diego Tourism Authority
  • Christine Duffy, president, Carnival Cruise Line; national chair, U.S. Travel Association
  • Elliott Ferguson, president/CEO, Destination DC
  • Susan Fox, SVP, government relations, The Walt Disney Company
  • Walt Leger, general counsel and incoming president/CEO, New Orleans & Company
  • Meghan Ludtke, managing director, regulatory affairs, American Airlines
  • Michael Massari, chief sales officer, Caesars Entertainment; co-chair, Meetings Mean Business Coalition
  • Sara Nelson, international president, Association of Flight Attendants
  • Martha Sheridan, president/CEO, Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau; co-chair, Meetings Mean Business Coalition