Cornell Panel Examines New Strategy to Increase International Travel to U.S.
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Executives from the nation's top travel and hospitality companies discussed "Expanding International Travel to the U.S." at the tenth edition of the Dean's Leadership Series, presented by the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration (SHA). The panel event was held June 14, 2012, at The Hay-Adams in Washington, D.C.
“Since 9-11, the U.S. hospitality and travel industry has seen a dramatic decrease in its market share of international travelers,” said Michael D. Johnson, dean and E. M. Statler Professor at SHA. “In an effort to create jobs and boost economic activity, the industry and the U.S. government are now working together to regain those visitors by increasing marketing efforts and decreasing barriers to entry while also keeping our borders secure. No issue in our industry is more timely and relevant, and we were delighted to feature panelists who are leading this effort in the industry and in Congress.”
Johnson moderated the discussion, which included panelists Jim Abrahamson, CEO, InterState Hotels & Resorts; Roger Dow, CEO, US Travel; Jim Evans, CEO, Brand USA; Steve Joyce, president and CEO, Choice Hotels International; and Chris Nassetta, CEO, Hilton Worldwide. Marlene Colucci, executive vice president of public policy, American Hotel & Lodging Association, kicked off the event with an industry update that included a report on the decline of U.S. market share of worldwide oversees travel from 17 percent to less than 12 percent over the past ten years; the launch of Brand USA, the industry’s first nationally organized advertising campaign, and the need for continued Congressional support of the program; and the visa process reforms proposed in the Jobs Originated through Launching Travel (JOLT) Act, “a bipartisan and bicameral effort that will create jobs by reforming outdated visa laws and processing standards while maintaining national security.”
The panel discussion started on a high note as panelists lauded the hospitality and travel industry for coalescing around the central issue of improving visa processes. “I’ve been around this industry for a long time, and I’ve never seen the industry come together like it has over the last five years,” said Evans.
Joyce said that he had little success during the first 20 years he spent lobbying politicians. Now, with improved collaboration among industry leaders and America’s great need for jobs, the issue is resonating on Capitol Hill. Nassetta credited Dow and U.S. Travel Association for bringing about industry transparency, especially regarding the decline in U.S. market share and the number of jobs that could be created by reinvigorating international travel to America.
The panelists agreed that demand for U.S. travel is up around the world but that innovations in infrastructure and guest services are necessary. Dow cited the need for increased airline flights and more robust airport infrastructure as well as easier visa and customs procedures. In addition, Abrahamson highlighted the need to accommodate other cultures better: “We’ve got to think about our customers. We want them to go home and say, ‘I had a great time; I felt welcome.’” Nassetta cited Hilton’s Huanying program for Chinese travelers as one example of service innovation for international travelers. Hilton hotels in the program have Chinese-speaking front desk staff and traditional Chinese food and beverage options, among other amenities.
The visa processing reforms proposed in the JOLT Act are the most important aspect of this issue. Dow explained that the act included two improvements—a decrease in wait times for visas and an increase in the number of visa waiver countries. (Nationals from visa waiver countries can travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa, according to the U.S. State Department website.)
Evans explained Brand USA’s mandate to promote secondary and tertiary markets in addition to the more iconic destinations. This means attracting repeat travelers who will come to the U.S. more than once and will seek “the authentic America,” as Dow said. Another important part of the campaign is targeting countries that have emerging middle classes—like Brazil, Russia, India, and China.
The panelists agreed that, despite recent successes, there is still work to do and that continued education about the role of the travel industry in creating jobs is key. Dow commented, “Shame on us that we’re just getting to where we should be. People should understand that [hospitality] is the darling of American jobs. You can’t export these jobs.” Monitoring and reporting the success of Brand USA to politicians will also be an important component, as will keeping this as a bipartisan issue and not allowing the industry to become a soft target for rooms tax increases, a tax that is popular with politicians because it is not levied against voting constituents.
In addition to the many industry leaders in attendance, various U.S. government offices were represented such as the Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of the Interior, and United States Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security.
The Dean’s Leadership Series was established in 2007 as a platform for industry leaders to discuss the most important topics facing hospitality and travel today. The Hay-Adams and B. F. Saul Company were title sponsors of the tenth edition, and USA TODAY was exclusive media partner. Other corporate sponsors were France 24, Hersha Hospitality Trust, Hospitality Design, Hotel Business, Hotel Management/Questex Hospitality Group, Hsyndicate, InterContinental Hotels Group, Lily Jack, newBrandAnalytics, PhoCusWright, PwC, Schelling Point, and the Turkmani Family.
About the Cornell School of Hotel Administration
The Cornell University School of Hotel Administration is shaping the global knowledge base for hospitality management through leadership in education, research and industry advancement. The school provides management instruction in the full range of hospitality disciplines, educating the next generation of leaders in the world's largest industry. Founded in 1922 as the nation's first collegiate course of study in hospitality management, the Cornell School of Hotel Administration is recognized as the world leader in its field. For more information, visit www.hotelschool.cornell.edu.