Friday, May 15, 2009
Orbitz CEO's Propaganda Supporting Rep. JOHN LUIGII MICA Is A Figment of HIs Imagination -- See Quote in Context Below
Jeff Clarke: Travel Promotion Act would give tourism a needed boost
By Jeff Clarke
Special to the Sentinel
Anyone who has traveled in the past six months has noticed that airport terminals and hotel lobbies aren't as crowded as they used to be. Even with the capacity reductions made by the airlines, many airplanes are flying with empty seats. It shows in the travel and tourism statistics for leading business and leisure destinations like Orlando.
Attendance at conventions and trade shows was down more than 21 percent during the first three months of 2009, according to the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Occupancy rates for business and convention lodging were down more than 17 percent during the same period to 65 percent, and the number of overnight visitors for conventions and meetings is expected to decline 16 percent this year to 3.1 million.
The number of domestic and international travelers flying into Orlando International Airport declined 17 percent during the first quarter of 2009 compared with the first quarter of 2008, according to data from travel-agent bookings. This is a slight acceleration from a nearly 12 percent year-over-year decline in the fourth quarter of 2008. And Orlando isn't alone. The same story is repeated in New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, Boston, Atlanta and many other cities. We're in the midst of the worst travel recession since 9-11 and the longest downturn in many years. Yet the loudest voices in Washington have been those raising questions about the legitimacy of business travel, one of the engines of Orlando's economy.
What's missing in many parts of Washington today is an understanding of the significant role that travel and tourism play in the U.S. economy. Total travel and tourism-related output was more than $1.3 trillion in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce -- nearly 10 percent of Gross Domestic Product. Travel-related employment totaled 8.6 million. Business travel alone generates $240 billion annually in spending, 2.4 million jobs and $39 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
Fortunately for Orlando, U.S. Rep. John Mica, the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, is a determined advocate for the travel and tourism industry that is so important to this region, the state of Florida and the nation.
We're also seeing signs of progress in Washington. After meeting with travel and tourism industry executives, President Barack Obama stressed the importance of a strong tourism industry and said he would encourage people to travel. And U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, refused to restrict business and incentive travel in a bill designed to put limits on executive compensation at companies receiving federal bailout funds.
But we should be doing a lot more to encourage international travelers to visit America. According to U.S. Travel, international travelers spend an average of $4,400 each per trip -- the kind of economic stimulus that can benefit Orlando and a lot of other communities. The U.S., however, is one of the only developed nations without a national organization to promote travel and tourism -- and it shows in the decline of overseas travel to America since 9-11.
We don't have to wait for economic recovery to begin to reverse this troubling trend. We can pass the Travel Promotion Act, which was approved by the U.S. House last year but did not come to a vote in the Senate. This legislation would create a public-private partnership to promote travel to the United States and communicate U.S. security and entry policies. It would be funded through private-sector contributions and a fee on travelers from countries whose citizens do not need a visa to enter the U.S.
The economy will eventually recover, but we need investments like the Travel Promotion Act to make sure that the travel and tourism economy comes back strong in Orlando and around the nation. Just like investments in infrastructure and energy independence, the more we do today, the better off we'll be in the future.
Jeff Clarke is CEO of Travelport and chairman of Orbitz Worldwide.
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