Travel Execs Win Obama’s Support at White House Meeting

HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR
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Washington, DC – A delegation of travel industry executives met with President Obama in early March to firm up the administration’s support for tourism and business travel and came away convinced he was on the right page.

“The travel community has an ally in President Obama and we appreciate the leadership he intends to bring to increasing travel to, and within, the United States,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), after the March 11 meeting at the White House.

Dow was part of a 12-member delegation of executives that included Colin Reed, chairman and CEO of Gaylord Entertainment, and Jonathan Tisch, chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels and chairman emeritus of the USTA.

“Travel will play a critical role in driving America’s economic recovery,” Tisch said. “We are pleased to have the support of President Obama and his team.”

A major item on the agenda was the need for Congress to promptly pass the Travel Promotion Act, which would create and fund a nonprofit group that would promote travel to the U.S. and provide information for visitors as they navigate the visa process. The red tape involved in obtaining a visa for international attendees and exhibitors has been a long-running headache for U.S. trade show organizers.

The USTA has been at the forefront of the industry response to the president’s now-infamous remark at a town hall meeting last month that employees of companies receiving Federal financial assistance under the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) “can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer’s dime.”

The statement irked not only Las Vegas but the entire meetings and exhibition industry. It was seen as a warning that business travel was now being considered an unnecessary extravagance that should be scaled back even by companies that were not receiving Federal funds. The industry has responded with a public relations campaign reminding lawmakers and the media that the travel industry in general provides jobs and that business travel in particular is a necessary activity to maintain the economy.

At the March 12 White House press briefing, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama never intended to criticize travel in general. “The president believes it’s important to have a strong tourism industry and that it’s important, as he said late last week, that we shouldn’t retrench or pull back; that he would encourage people to travel.”

The delegation led by the USTA also included: Jim Abrahamson, president, the Americas, IHG; Jim Atchison, president and COO, Busch Entertainment Corp.; Jeff Clarke, CEO and president, Travelport; Howard Frank, vice chairman and COO, Carnival Corporation & plc; Barney Harford, president and CEO, Orbitz Worldwide; W. Stephen Maritz, chairman and CEO, Maritz Holdings Inc; Bill Marriott, chairman and CEO, Marriott International, Inc.; Jay Rasulo, chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts; Frits van Paasschen, president and CEO, Starwood Hotels and Resorts; and Tom Williams, chairman and CEO, Universal Parks and Resorts.

Reach Roger Dow at (202) 408-8422 or rdow@ustravel.org

 

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Presidential Meeting Participants

  • Roger Dow, President & CEO, U.S. Travel Association
  • Jonathan M. Tisch, Chairman & CEO, Loews Hotels; Chairman Emeritus, U.S. Travel Association
  • Jim Abrahamson, President, the Americas, IHG
  • Jim Atchison, President & COO, Busch Entertainment Corp.
  • Jeff Clarke, President & CEO, Travelport
  • Howard Frank, Vice Chairman & COO, Carnival Corporation & plc
  • Barney Harford, President & CEO, Orbitz Worldwide
  • W. Stephen Maritz, Chairman & CEO, Maritz Holdings Inc.
  • Bill Marriott, Chairman & CEO, Marriott International, Inc.
  • Frits van Paasschen, President, CEO & Director, Starwood Hotels and Resorts
  • Jay Rasulo, Chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts
  • Colin Reed, Chairman & CEO, Gaylord Entertainment
  • Tom Williams, Chairman & CEO, Universal Parks and Resorts