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Travel Leaders Meet to Address COVID-19

March 19, 2020

Eleven association leaders hold unprecedented meeting, seek to safeguard members’ businesses

Washington, D.C. (March 19, 2020) — With the travel and tourism industry trending to be one of the nation’s industries hit hardest by COVID-19, a group of leaders from 11 travel and tourism associations convened in person and by phone in Washington, D.C. on March 19. They, along with representatives from the Department of Commerce, discussed key issues facing the industry, acknowledging that their members will be seeing the effects of this pandemic for months, if not years, to come.

“Tour operators are living their worst nightmare,” said NTA President Catherine Prather. “They are receiving one cancellation after another from travelers who are angry, stressed, and scared, and many operators are digging into their pockets to provide refunds—with no reimbursement in sight from many vendors.”

The industry leaders stressed the vital and urgent need for the federal government to take swift action that is clear in its direction and provides grants, favorable loans, and other relief mechanisms to address the market failure that small businesses within the travel and tourism industry are facing.

“Small- and medium-size travel businesses comprise the long tail of travel,” said Shannon Stowell, CEO of the Adventure Travel Trade Association. “As a group, they drive significant economic impact in the U.S., but due to their relatively small sizes, they don’t have deep pockets to weather this unprecedented situation. Tour operators, lodges, guides, and travel agents need support in this critically dangerous financial environment.”

According to a recent U.S. Travel Association analysis, COVID-19 and the resulting travel restrictions will result in an $809 billion hit to the United States economy and a loss of 4.6 million travel-related American jobs this year, nearly doubling the U.S. unemployment rate. Total spending on travel in the United States, which includes transportation, lodging, retail, attractions, and restaurants, is expected to fall by $355 billion—a 31 percent decrease from 2019. The projected impact is six times greater than that of 9/11.

The industry leaders discussed economic relief achieved through Congressional acts and the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, and they weighed the overall impact of COVID-19 on the travel and tourism industry. They also discussed how the industry can work together in the coming months to help overcome the lasting effects of this pandemic. 

Specific actions agreed by the group include the following:

  • Continue to collaborate on issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic and economic relief.
  • Engage Capitol Hill lawmakers and Executive Branch officials as relief negotiations continue to ensure the travel industry remains a part of the conversation.
  • Advocate for any and all relief measures to help keep businesses’ doors open.
  • Rely on one another and on the resilience of the travel and tourism sector to navigate this unprecedented time.

The meeting was attended by the following industry leaders:

  • American Bus Association (ABA), Peter Pantuso, President and Chief Executive Officer,
  • Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), Shannon Stowell, CEO, and Chun Wright, Legal Counsel
  • American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA), Zane Kerby, President and Chief Executive Officer and Evan Beck, Executive Vice President
  • Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), Brian Beall, Vice President, Government Affairs
  • International Association of Tour Directors & Guides (IATDG), Von Harden, Chief Executive Officer, and Karen Yates, Community Director
  • International Inbound Travel Association (IITA), Lisa Simon, Executive Director, and Steve Richer, Consultant
  • International Motorcoach Group (IMG), Bronwyn Wilson, President
  • National Federation of Tourist Guide Associations USA (NFTGA), Ellen Malasky, President
  • National Tour Association (NTA), Catherine Prather, CTP, President 
  • Student & Youth Travel Association (SYTA), Carylann Assante, Chief Executive Officer, and Erik Hansen, Vice President of Government Relations
  • United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA), Terry Dale, President and Chief Executive Officer

The following statements were issued by the industry leaders:

Terry Dale, USTOA: “Unprecedented times call for urgent action and our industry as a whole needs to be proactive to ensure the business health of each of our members, so many of whom are small businesses, and their employees stays front and center as government relief programs are developed and announced. The combined voices from each of these industry partners and their collective memberships will make a powerful impact to urge government officials to act fast. We are separate, yet united.”

Peter Pantuso, ABA: “Motorcoach operators, tour operators, destinations, and other tourism-related organizations (including local and regional government partners), along with product and service suppliers, all support the travel industry and are being significantly hit by the COVID-19. Collectively, the motorcoach, tour and travel industries provide nearly 2 million jobs and create more than $236 billion in economic impact nationwide.  These are industries dominated by small entrepreneurial businesses, many of which are multigenerational family businesses. Unlike larger corporate interests, these companies cannot withstand such a significant economic downturn.”

Shannon Stowell, ATTA: “Small and medium size travel businesses comprise the long tail of travel. As a group, they drive significant economic impact in the US but due to their relatively small sizes don’t have deep pockets to weather this unprecedented situation.  Tour operators, lodges, guides and travel agents need support in this critically dangerous financial environment.”

Catherine Prather, NTA: “NTA tour operators are living their worst nightmare. It’s devastating to hear their stories, because these entrepreneurs and small business owners have dedicated their livelihoods to creating amazing, memorable experiences for people of all ages. They are receiving one cancellation after another from travelers who are angry, stressed, and scared, and these tour operators are not only bearing the brunt of this, many are digging into their pockets to provide refunds—with no reimbursement in sight from many vendors. Our nation’s tour companies consistently drive business to hotels, restaurants, theme parks, and museums, and their travelers fly aboard planes and ride on motorcoaches. They are the backbone of the travel industry, and as their business dries up, the industry breaks down along with them.”

Carylann Assante, SYTA and SYTA Youth Foundation: “Student and youth travel is an integral part of the travel and tourism industry, representing 20% of the total North American Market with annual spending of $10 billion a year. With the 1.5 million student travelers effectively ceasing all travel, this is a devastating impact on the small business owners, tour directors, tour guides and all those essential to providing these valuable travel experiences.”

Brian Beall, CLIA: “These are unprecedented times for the world—and its impacts are far reaching. This is especially true for the tens of thousands of small and medium-sized businesses who rely on the cruise industry for their livelihoods. We know that for every 1% drop in cruising from the United States, up to 2,000 jobs can be lost. We are committed to seeing our community through this crisis. This is a resilient community, and we are confident that cruising will be an important contributor to the economic recovery, given that every 30 cruisers from U.S. ports create one U.S. job.”

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