USTA Calls for ‘Policies and Incentives’ to Bring Back Meetings & Events

The U.S. Travel Association has been working with the new
Biden administration on policies that can be adopted to jump-start travel and
boost America’s economy, said USTA president and CEO Roger Dow during his 2021
State of the Travel Industry address on Wednesday.

Part of those plans require “policies and incentives to
safely bring back meetings and events,” Dow said. “When
we discuss travel reopening, we must also keep a keen eye on business travel
and meetings and events, along with leisure travel. We are all thankful for
platforms like Zoom that have helped us stay in contact during the year, no
matter what business you’re in, but we need to look forward to a time when we
can really safely do business in person again. There is too much value in face-to-face
meetings, business events and conventions, and the powerful boost they give to
local and regional economies that is simply too great to ignore.”

One item Dow
mentioned was aggressive economic stimulus measures that include travel and
meeting tax credits to offset the cost of participating in or hosting
conventions, business meetings and events. In an accompanying policy platform
document, the association also calls for a tax credit to help businesses cover
costs related to new Covid-19 health and safety guidelines.

He also noted
that the administration should safely reopen international travel through
“risk-based Covid-19 testing protocols” and removal of international
travel bans. In addition, Dow stated that in 2019 the U.S. welcomed 79 million
international visitors, but in 2020 that number fell to 19 million, and those
were almost all in the first quarter. Looking at 2021, the number USTA is
projecting is 33 million international visitors.

The association
remains against testing requirements for U.S. domestic flights, however, as
they would be difficult to enforce, likely would be inconsistent across
different states, and could increase the cost of travel, said USTA public affairs and policy EVP Tori Emerson Barnes during a conference call following Dow’s

USTA’s proposals
also call for a cost-sharing program to cover business interruption and event
cancellation insurance losses related to a public health emergency, as well as
encouraging enhanced visa processing, particularly for business and
meeting-related travel.

In all, USTA’s
policy platform proposals fall into five categories: economic recovery;
investing in infrastructure and the future of mobility—which calls for $325
billion over five years for federal-aid highway programs, $125 billion over
five years for investments in public transit, $40 billion over five years for
the Airport Improvement Program from both the Airport and Airways Trust Fund
and the General Fund, and $60 billion in passenger rail funding; increasing
global competitiveness; streamlining travel and security facilitation; and re-imagining
air travel. 

The latter calls
for the Transportation Security Administration to invest in technology to
implement Credential Authentication Technology with Camera (CAT-C) at 90
percent of TSA lanes by 2022; to expand the biometric exit systems that currently
operate at 20 airport and seven seaports to process 90 percent of exiting
passengers by the end of 2021; to expand Simplified Arrival beyond its current
20 airports and four Preclearance locations to process 90 percent of arrivals
by the end of 2021; and to develop “harmonies” between TSA, U.S.
Customs and Border Protection and Trusted Traveler Programs’ use of biometrics
to ensure a seamless, secure and voluntary (for U.S. citizens) experience.

Further, USTA has
called on the Biden administration to establish a new Assistant Secretary for
Travel and Tourism within the Department of Commerce in order to help develop a
coherent, government-wide strategy to boost travel exports. 

Dow said that the
U.S. travel industry suffered more than $500 billion in pandemic-related losses
since March 2020. He also noted appreciation for the latest relief legislation
passed in December, which extended the Paycheck Protection Program and expanded
it to include destination marketing organizations, and included emergency
relief funding for airports, and concessionaires to help maintain operation and
prevent the spread of infection, but added that more needed to be done.

“More will
be needed to ensure travel businesses weather this storm and help fuel
America’s economic recovery,” Dow said. “There are important
components contained in President Biden’s American Rescue Plan to help us
rebuild, such as providing grants for the hardest hit industries, including
travel. Also included is additional funding for vaccine distribution which we
know is vital to helping travel businesses more robustly reopen.”

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