This piece originally appeared in TravelPulse.
The 2016 election cycle has been remarkably volatile, and comes on the heels of a volatile year for policies that affect the travel industry. From major national security threats to fierce opposition to pro-competition policies that help travelers, many of The U.S. Travel Association’s greatest priorities were in danger of being set back.
However, supporting travel continues to grow as a priority for lawmakers, and our industry’s voice in Washington is growing stronger. How do we do it, and what difference does our work in Washington make for travelers and travel industry workers across the country?
In large part, the answer lies in our election year publicity campaigns, our rapidly rising Travel PAC and our continuing advocacy efforts that reach those making the decisions that affect our sector.
Educating candidates about the power of travel in the U.S. economy is a big part of our election year publicity strategy. U.S. Travel’s economic research team has released analyses of the 2016 election’s impact on the economies of states with early primaries, starting with New Hampshire and South Carolina. Their findings are compelling: 2016 presidential candidates are fueling jobs in those states simply by being there, and by attracting legions of campaign staff, journalists and onlookers.
The numbers show that travel is a “primary” industry in America, and we’re making sure that all of this year’s candidates receive that message where they are: out on the campaign trail and at party conventions. We’ve sponsored attention-grabbing ads at the Manchester, New Hampshire airport ahead of that state’s pivotal primary contest, and adorned local hotel key cards with travel facts and figures in South Carolina. We’re planning to further tout the economic benefits of travel in Cleveland and Philadelphia for the party conventions, and in Las Vegas for the final presidential debate.
This outreach targeting presidential candidates is bolstered by our existing relationships with sitting members of Congress, solidified by our growing PAC. We created the U.S. Travel Association Political Action Committee (Travel PAC) in 2009 in order to support members of Congress who appreciate the power of travel in America. 2015 was a record year for Travel PAC donations, allowing U.S. Travel to step up its efforts educating and mobilizing industry members to play a more active role in the political process, and to reach members of Congress and candidates who champion travel-friendly policies—all of which helped U.S. Travel remain a leading voice for the travel industry in Washington.
Thanks to the PAC’s strength, the travel industry had a seat at the table during legislative conversations about important topics such as airline competition, airport modernization and trusted traveler programs. We’re making our voice heard on measures such as adjusting the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) while cutting aviation taxes, and spurring additive competition by defending our Open Skies agreements with multiple countries.
This year’s victories include successfully enhancing the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) in the wake of terror attacks in San Bernardino and Paris—without fearful overreaction that would have hurt the volume of legitimate travel—and a measure mandating the consultation of the travel industry on future transportation planning in this year’s FAST Act.
Additionally, the Power of Travel Coalition, a U.S. Travel Association grassroots project, has made major headway in forging positive relationships between travel industry leaders and members of Congress. Last year, our industry members organized 45 Travel Talks with their senator or representative, which paved the way for productive conversations about the role of travel in their district and state’s economy. This record year of Travel Talks forged several new travel champions in Congress, who will be instrumental in ensuring that our industry weathers everything that comes its way in the years to come.
Travel and traveler-friendly policies will continue to face obstacles in 2016, and we’re poised to defend every one of them. Our agenda this year includes making sure that airport modernization solutions are part of any FAA reauthorization bill; further defending the VWP; protecting Open Skies agreements and other pro-competition, pro-growth and pro-traveler programs; and ensuring that all candidates and current members of Congress remember travel when reacting to major national security, public health and financial crises. The U.S. Travel Association is proud to be the voice of the travel community in Washington, and we have many exciting achievements ahead.