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Special fromThe Beat.
The nation's 44th president needs to focus on some pretty heavy issues after Tuesday's inauguration, but industry representatives hope the Obama administration has time to focus on travel, tourism and transportation sooner than later. An alphabet soup of travel associations has offered plenty of advice to consider.
Recommendations with broad support include improved transportation infrastructure, a faster means of exonerating those wrongly placed on terror watch lists, sufficient FAA funding and a sound energy policy. Other issues draw the groups' special attention. The Association of Corporate Travel Executives wants tax incentives for companies pursuing environmental efficiency. The National Business Travel Association is promoting registered traveler programs and opposing "local and state government" use of car rental tax revenue "to increase revenue for unrelated projects." The former Travel Industry Association, now the U.S. Travel Association, trumpets the Travel Promotion Act.
A letter sent last week to Congress by 12 travel and aviation groups requested "stimulus funding to jumpstart NextGen--the Federal Aviation Administration's plan to update the ground-based air traffic system," currently scheduled for full deployment by 2025. Including NBTA, the Air Transport Association and the National Business Aviation Association, these groups requested "$4 billion of the $20 billion in required equipage costs to accelerate the program and its benefits," which they said include job creation, carbon emissions reductions and an air transport system capable of handling growing traffic levels.
Meanwhile, a forum convened in December by the National Tour Association drew dozens of travel industry organizations, many of which sent recommendations last week to Obama's transition team.
Not a participant in the NTA forum, ACTE last week cited "three major areas impacting business travel that the incoming Obama administration should address as simultaneous priorities for 2009." The group is advocating tax breaks for experimentation with alternative fuels and "corporate diligence in reducing the impact of business travel on the environment." ACTE also suggested the Obama administration accelerate FAA NextGen deployment "by at least 10 years" and called for "a complete review of all airline and airport security procedures and processes (both implemented and proposed)."
That review, ACTE said, would help determine how effective and costly such programs are, and whether there are "less invasive, more efficient and less expensive" alternatives. A resulting "comprehensive security policy" could, in ACTE's opinion, "put an end to poorly defined objectives, failed goals, lack of transparency, redundant efforts, cost-overruns and a tendency to ignore public commentary. It would also seek to establish congressional oversight in critical areas where explanations for various actions are not presently forthcoming."
Outgoing Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff recently appointed NBTA executive director Bill Connors to the federal Aviation Security Advisory Committee to represent "aviation consumer advocates and the corporate travel industry." NBTA wants greater support for domestic and international registered traveler programs, and specifically asked that the Transportation Security Administration "resume and expand the security threat assessments for RT membersto allow for security checkpoint benefits"). On climate change, NBTA said the United States should "move cautiously" and apply "marketplace mechanisms as much as possible, while opposing punitive travel taxes meant to discourage travel." It also wants Congress to stipulate that funds collected from any greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-trade system "be used to pay for transportation infrastructure improvements."
NBTA restated its distaste for "unfair" car rental taxation and advocated expansion of the Visa Waiver Program, reimbursement for airlines and other transportation providers that have been asked to pay for security programs and additional funding for Amtrak and high-speed rail networks. NBTA also said Congress should consider "a travel tax holiday to suspend travel taxes during the travel slowdown without drawing down transportation trust funds," and suggested that Congress or FAA "end the practice of not refunding aviation ticket taxes on unused tickets."
Some groups see an opportunity for the travel industry to develop a more effective lobbying effort.
The U.S. Travel Association claims to have done just that by recently combining the Travel Business Roundtable and the Travel Industry Associationunder its new banner. The idea, according to USTA president and CEO Roger Dow, is "to enable the entire travel community to have an even bigger and more unified voice in Washington."
In addition to improving air travel security initiatives and easing air traffic congestion, USTA's 2009 policy agenda includes passage of legislation replicating the Travel Promotion Act. Among other things, the legislation calls for the creation of a nonprofit Corporation for Travel Promotion to both promote travel and tourism to the United States and provide foreign visitors with information about entry requirements, documentation and fees required to enter the country. It had been introduced in the Senate and passed in the House of Representatives during 2008.
USTA also requests "funding for a survey of international air travelers to improve data collection on international travelers to allow U.S states and cities to attract more international visitors." Like NBTA, it also encourages expansion of the Visa Waiver Program and registered traveler programs, and development of high-speed rail.
A Dec. 16, 2008 meeting in Washington drew representatives from more than 30 travel industry groups, according to the National Tour Association. Twenty-four of the associations--including the American Society of Travel Agents, the Association of Travel Marketing Executives and Sustainable Travel International--last week sent seven recommendations to Obama's team. The submitters noted that while they have been "traditionally segmented by speci?c interests, these voices united for the ?rst time to identify immediate top priorities for President-elect Obama's Transition Team that will help fuel America's economy through travel and tourism."
The recommendations included establishing an "Executive Office of Travel and Tourism" to coordinate and promote federal travel initiatives. The groups also opposed travel bans and argued U.S. travelers should be allowed to visit "countries whose leaders are publicly opposed to American interests" and "serve as ambassadors of freedom and American values to those nations."
ASTA was "encouraged by early indications" that Obama would "quickly begin to remove the obstacles to travel to Cuba" and praised Secretary of State nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton "for signaling a change in American foreign policy with respect to Cuba." ASTA noted that the recommendations included "the creation of an investment tax credit program for small business investments in information-related technologies, which will be crucial for travel agencies to compete effectively in the years ahead."
NTA summit signatories also supported the Travel Promotion Act, improved visa processing, highway reauthorization, federal grants for travel and tourism development and funding for federal lands.
"Each of the participating organizations has its own agenda, requiring compromise all around," according to ASTA president Chris Russo. "After intense discussions the final product is something of which all the signatories can be proud."
The Air Transport Association, International Air Transport Association, Interactive Travel Services Association, NBTA and the U.S. Travel Association attended the Dec. 16 event but did not endorse the recommendations. In most cases, these associations said they developed their own recommendations.
"While there are certainly some shared thoughts on initiatives, these groups also all have different ideas and passionately support different paths as to how we can best support this industry," according to an emailed response from ITSA executive director Art Sackler. "Our association felt, until we could have a truly uniform position within the industry, sending an 'ask' to President-elect Obama's transition team was premature."
An IATA spokesman said his association supports "broad efforts" and "was pleased" to participate in the NTA summit. Without providing details, he added, "We have had several meetings in recent weeks with the Obama transition team to share our recommendations for the next administration."
Obama's first travel-related decision as President-elect was nominating just-retired Rep. Ray LaHood, a former Illinois congressman, as new Transportation Secretary. The Senate Commerce Committee scheduled a hearing on his nomination for Wednesday.
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