Governors focus on travel and tourism recovery at NGA summer meeting

Governors focus on travel and tourism recovery at NGA summer meeting

A look at the discussion Governors had with leaders in the travel and tourism industry about the industry’s impact on economic activity and job creation.

At the NGA summer meeting, governors met with key tourism and travel industry leaders to discuss how the industry continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The discussion also focused on the significant economic impact the industry is having on states, businesses and individual Americans.

MIT Chairman and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson opened the plenary session, noting how the vital travel and tourism industry “powers billions of dollars in economic activity and tens of thousands of jobs in our economies. Aside from the economic implications, however, there are all sorts of benefits to getting out and exploring the 55 states and territories. It increases mental well-being, arouses curiosity and generates goodwill.”

Tori Emerson Barnes, Executive Vice President, Public Affairs and Policy, at the US Travel Association then moderated a discussion with panelists:

  • Amir Eylon, President and CEO, Partner, Longwoods International;
  • Al Hutchinson, President and CEO, Visit Baltimore;
  • Keiko Matsudo Orrall, Executive Director, Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism; and
  • Chris Thompson, President and CEO, Brand USA.

Panelists provided insight into how the industry continues to recover after a significant downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, with regard to international travel numbers, panellists explained that current projections show that the United States is unlikely to return to 2019 international visitor numbers before 2025. Although travel activity has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, panellists were optimistic about the industry’s resilience and many positive trends, including increased consumer demand for travel and the return and creation of jobs. Panelists also detailed some of the trends they see relating to Americans’ travel preferences and concerns, with the majority of travelers’ safety concerns related to COVID being eclipsed by concerns related to inflation, high gas prices and complications with air travel will.

The governors addressed a number of challenges and opportunities they see in their states and territories.

Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi shared that the territory’s tourism industry “had a record year last year… believe it or not, in the middle of the pandemic, and this year we’re doing even better.” The governor shared how Puerto Rico decided to direct American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to hotels. Puerto Rico has a Destination Marketing Organization (DMO), and Governor Pierluisi “aimed to fund ARPA funding to double the funding of our DMO. In Puerto Rico, this DMO called Discover Puerto Rico was formed a few years ago…it’s promoting Puerto Rico on a consistent basis…and I say to my fellow governors, think about it [utilizing a DMO] because it works.”

Maine Gov. Janet Mills shared examples of successful ways Maine has helped tourism industry workers manage the health and safety standards put in place during the pandemic to help both workers and tourists. “One thing we did,” Gov. Mills said, “was use our community colleges to set up some sort of three-week safety, health and security training program so that people who work in the hospitality industry … were trained in safety procedures and.” The governor also shared that while Maine has yet to return to 2019 tourism numbers, “tourist spending is much higher than it has ever been.” The governor also expressed concerns that Maine and other states are facing labor shortages, which are proving to be “a major impediment to providing labor to the industry.”

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu expressed concern about the challenges of housing workers, saying young people want to work but “can’t afford it. There is literally no place for them to live. They don’t want to drive an hour to a hotel for work.” Gov. Sununu also addressed how the rise of the vacation rentals by owner (Vrbo) industry has led to a “major economic shift” in the industry, which he says will needs to be addressed.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker also expressed concern about the impact of the housing shortage on the tourism industry in Massachusetts, sharing that “we have begun building housing in various locations and are supporting the building of housing in the Cape specifically for people who will be working there.” ‘Cause there’s no place they can go.”

Governor Doug Burgum of North Dakota addressed some of the unique considerations faced by the 13 states that share a border with Canada, including challenges arising from staffing shortages at border crossings, making it difficult for Canadians to use the United States for travel or others to visit economic activities. Governor Burgum also noted, “One of the things I see in our state is that the tourism business hasn’t adopted enough technology” and “there are technology solutions that would actually reduce demand for the amount of labor that we need… and we”. We will make a push in North Dakota to push equal tax credits for automation for the service industry.”

Watch the full session:

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