The last few months have been challenging for the American economy, with the travel industry suffering particularly devastating losses.

Between the onset of the pandemic and May 1, the travel industry lost more than half of its jobs—driving an unemployment number (51%) that was more than twice the 25% rate the country as a whole experienced at the height of the Great Depression. Rebuilding our nation’s workforce is a daunting task, but it is not impossible.

In the spirit of Infrastructure Week (September 14-21), elected officials should recall that one of the worst economic crises in U.S. history presented an opportunity to invest in infrastructure projects that put Americans back to work, spurring an economic recovery and a decade of tremendous change. Some of the most innovative infrastructure projects in our country’s history, from the Lincoln Tunnel to the Hoover Dam, began during this period.

As our elected officials continue to identify ways to kickstart an economic recovery, infrastructure investment should remain top of mind—not just to create jobs today, but in anticipation of a post-pandemic surge in travel demand. 

When international travel can resume in earnest, visitors should be welcomed by a country with infrastructure systems that are modern and efficient—from airports to roadways, and every point in between. By prioritizing investment in infrastructure now, the U.S. can prepare to emerge from this crisis with stronger, more durable systems than ever before.

This, unfortunately, is an area in which the U.S. has lagged behind other countries in recent years. Some of our biggest competitors for international tourism dollars—Japan, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, for example—have made significant investments in their travel infrastructure systems, and boast some of the most modern, well-connected airports in the world. The U.S., however, did not have a single airport that ranked in the top 30 globally in 2020. This must change if the U.S. is to remain competitive in the global travel market after the pandemic has passed and international travel can resume.

Further, investments should be made in projects of national and regional significance that help address mobility issues between and within communities, such as high-speed rail and subways. Other initiatives, such as Hyperloop transportation and incentives for electric vehicles and charging stations, could be instrumental in modernizing America’s infrastructure systems.

In addition to providing relief, protection and stimulus for the travel industry, the federal government should continue to prioritize infrastructure projects and identify ways to spur economic development. And if history is any indication, it’s a wise investment that could pay off for decades to come.