Political and Social Factors Could Upend Travel Industry

During a forum hosted by Meet Puerto Rico on the future of travel, a panel of industry experts discussed potential challenges from and solutions to the changing travel culture.

Travel is a central factor in global exchange, communications, and business. But with a seemingly “perfect storm” of issues facing the industry, traditional travel could experience a major upheaval.

With regards to the U.S., a potential travel ban, heightened airport security, airline concerns, and controversial legislation may dissuade people from traveling domestically and internationally—or even keep visitors from coming into the country. And political or civic unrest and health concerns like Zika are keeping travelers from going to other parts of the world.

“I think everybody clusters all of these elements when they’re contemplating travel,” Don Welsh, president of Destination Marketing Association International, said during Monday’s Traveling in These Times panel discussion. “They’ll look at the air piece, they’ll look at the hotel piece, they’ll look at safety. And all those get aggregated in the decision as to what you’re going to do, where you’re going to go, when you’re going to go.”

In the association space, any travel changes would greatly affect meetings. For example, associations are already avoiding holding their conventions in states with legislation they view as discriminatory, while other groups had to adjust their conferences to better accommodate their international attendees.

Panelists, moderated by NPR’s Jack Speer (left) take part in the panel discussion on travel issues.

And with a proposed travel ban sitting in the courts, associations—specifically scientific and medical organizations who have high numbers of international members—may simply move their meetings outside the U.S. This could especially be true as people seek what panelist and CBS Travel Editor Peter Greenberg called “safe haven travel” by visiting quieter places like Oslo, Norway.

Ultimately, this loss of travel could hurt the U.S. economy at both the local and national level. “Travel is looked at as something that is frivolous or not serious,” ASAE President and CEO John Graham IV, FASAE, CAE, said. “People don’t look at the economic impact, they don’t look at the jobs that are created, they don’t think when a meeting comes to a city how” it affects local business.

“We really need to—not only as a country, but as an industry in particular—really talk about the fact that it’s fun to go travel, it’s fun to go on vacation, it’s fun to do all those things, but there’s also a very serious side of travel,” he continued. “Some of it is the exchange of information, the exchange of cultures, and the exchange of dollars.”

But for some of these issues, it’s the perception of the problem rather than the reality that is stunting travel. Milton Segarra, President and CEO of Meet Puerto Rico, which sponsored the forum, explained that during the Zika outbreak, Puerto Rico saw a significant drop in visitors, even though the CVB had shared that the threat wasn’t as large as believed.

Travel decisions are “about what about health, what about safety, what about the others things that are part of this discussion and part of the equation,” he said. So CVBs need to be open and transparent with visitors about the reality of if and how they can travel to their destination. And this conversation needs to include both the traveling public and politicians creating policies that may affect the travel industry.

“I think the problem is the lack of understanding of certain politicians …” Segarra said. “They don’t understand what we do, they don’t understand the impact that our business has on an economic setting—not only if the hotels are full or not, or the restaurants are full, but the overall economic impact on our societies, our communities, or our nation.”

And the key to reaching people, Greenberg said, is “getting that information out in credible and trusted sources.”

Alex Beall

By Alex Beall

Alex Beall is an associate editor for Associations Now with a masters in journalism and a penchant for Instagram. MORE

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