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 the governors held with travel and tourism industry leaders about the industry’s impact on economic activity and job creation.

At the NGA Summer Meeting, Governors met with key leaders in the tourism and travel industry to discuss how the industry continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The discussion also focused on the significant economic impact the industry has on states, businesses and individual Americans.

With chairman and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson opened the plenary session by noting how the vital travel and tourism industry “fosters billions of dollars in economic activity and tens of thousands of jobs in our economies. Beyond the economic impact, however, getting out there and exploring the 55 states and territories provides all kinds of benefits. It improves mental well-being, sparks curiosity and generates goodwill.”

Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president, public affairs and policy, at the USA Travel Association, then moderated a panel discussion:

  • Amir Eilon, President and CEO, Partner, Longwoods International;
  • Al Hutchinson, President and CEO, Visit Baltimore;
  • Keiko Matsudo Oral, 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. Regarding international travel numbers, for example, the panelists explained that current projections show that the United States is unlikely to return to international visitor numbers from 2019 to 2025. Although travel has not returned to pre-pandemic levels , panelists expressed optimism about the industry’s resilience and many positive trends, including increased consumer demand for travel and return and job creation. The panelists also detailed some of the trends they’re seeing related to Americans’ travel preferences and concerns, with the majority of travelers’ concerns about COVID safety being overshadowed by concerns about inflation, high gas prices and the complications of air travel.

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

Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi said 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 the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to hotels. Puerto Rico has a Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) and Governor Pierluisi “directed ARPA funding to double the funding of our DMO. In Puerto Rico, this DMO called Discover Puerto Rico was created a few years ago … it promotes Puerto Rico on a consistent basis … and I tell my fellow governors to think about [utilizing a DMO] because it works.”

Maine Governor Janet Mills shared examples of successful ways Maine has helped tourism industry officials navigate the health and safety standards put in place during the pandemic to help both employees and tourists. “One thing we did,” Governor Mills said, “was to use our community colleges to create something like a three-week training program on safety, health and safety so that people working in the hospitality industry … would be trained in safety and sanitation measures.” The governor also shared that while Maine has yet to return to the tourism numbers seen in 2019, “tourism spending is much higher than it’s ever been before.” The governor also expressed concern that Maine and other states are facing a shortage of workforce housing, which is proving to be a “major obstacle to securing a workforce for industry.”

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu expressed concern about workforce housing challenges, saying young people want to work but “can’t afford it. There is literally nowhere for them to live. They don’t want to drive an hour to work in a hotel. Governor Sununu also addressed how the rise of the vacation rental by owner (Vrbo) industry has created a “major economic shift” in the industry that he says needs to be addressed.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker also addressed concerns about how the housing shortage is affecting the Massachusetts tourism industry, saying, “We’ve started to build housing in different places, and we support building housing on the Cape specifically for people who are going to work there because they have nowhere to go.

Gov. Doug Burgum on North Dakota examines some of the unique considerations facing the 13 states that share a border with Canada, including challenges stemming from reduced staffing at border crossings, making it difficult for Canadians to visit the United States for travel or other economic engagement. Governor Burgum also noted that “one of the things I see in our state is that the tourism business has not embraced technology enough” and “there are technology solutions that would actually reduce the demand for the amount of labor that we need … and us’ will make a push in North Dakota to provide equal automation tax credits for the service sector.

Watch the full session:

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