Hundreds of Industry Leaders Urge Immediate Action by Congress to Further Drive Recovery

January 25, 2022

In a bold show of solidarity, more than 600 leaders from the U.S. tourism and events industry united with the U.S. Travel Association to sign a letter to congressional leadership urging swift enactment of federal policies to spur demand for business and international travel and help stabilize the broader travel economy.

Supporters included representatives from destinations, venues and industry organizations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the travel industry, providing additional federal relief and stabilizing policies will help all sectors of travel, including events, build an even recovery, according to Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs for U.S. Travel, which delivered the letter to lawmakers Jan. 19.

“Congress should enact these priorities as quickly as possible to [further] enable the return of business travel and professional meetings and events, in addition to the international inbound travel segment,” she said.

The vast coalition of supporters of the letter are calling on Congress to enact the following measures this year to bolster industry growth, restore lost jobs and reinvigorate businesses and communities:

  • Pass the Restoring Brand USA Act, which transfers $250 million in surplus revenue from the Travel Promotion Fund to restore Brand USA’s budget and support its efforts to bring back international visitors to all regions of the U.S. (Brand USA’s budget reached historic lows in 2021 due to the steep decline in international travel fees that are used to fund the program, according to U.S. Travel.)
  • Provide targeted tax stimulus to restore spending on business travel, live entertainment and in-person events. Temporary tax credits and deductions, such as those proposed in Sections 2 and 4 of the Hospitality and Commerce Jobs Recovery Act would stimulate spending and quicken the pace of recovery for business travel, conferences, trade shows, live entertainment, the arts, minor league sports and other in-person events.
  • Provide additional funding for relief grants to severely impacted travel businesses by expanding eligibility for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) and the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program or enacting a new relief program with a similar structure to RRF for travel-dependent businesses severely impaired by COVID-19 restrictions, including hotels, event organizers, group tour operators, venues, attractions, travel advisors and many others.

The letter also provides a link to other policies being advocated by U.S. Travel, including the enactment of government-sponsored event cancellation insurance coverage for pandemic-related losses, such as the proposed Pandemic Risk Insurance Act of 2021 (PRIA). After first proposing a version of the act in March 2020, U.S. Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) reintroduced PRIA in Congress last November, prompting overwhelming industry support.

If passed, the bill would require insurance companies to offer business interruption and event cancellation policies that cover pandemics as well as create a Pandemic Risk Reinsurance Program to ensure that there is sufficient capacity to cover the losses and protect the economy in the event of a resurgence of COVID-19 or future pandemics.

The devastating impact the pandemic has had on the travel industry overall is spelled out in the letter, including a $730 billion loss in spending since March 2020, as well as projections from Tourism Economics, which indicate that without targeted federal policies to accelerate the return of business and international inbound travel demand, both vital segments will not fully recover to 2019 levels until at least 2024. Tourism Economics reports show that domestic business travel spending was 50% below 2019 levels in 2021 and could be 24% below 2019 levels in 2022.

According to David DuBois, president and CEO of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) and co-president of the Exhibitions and Conferences Alliance, the travel industry and the exhibitions and events industry saw improvement in activity in 2021 but would like to be closer to its goal of reaching pre-pandemic performance levels of 2019.

"Given the continued uncertainty surrounding how Omicron and subsequent variants of COVID-19 will affect our industries, we are still in great need of support from Congress as we continue our recovery process," he said. "We are eager to not only get our industry back on track, but to get back to contributing to the overall U.S. economy to our fullest potential."

DuBois added that in 2019, business-to-business events drew 33.2 million attendees and contributed $101 billion to the overall U.S. economy through job creation and spending dollars that benefit the cities and venues that host the events.

"By taking the measures proposed in the appeal put forth by U.S. Travel and its supporting organizations, the best-case scenario is that our industry receives the assistance we need to continue doing everything we can on our end to successfully reach our recovery goals," he said. "IAEE will continue to work with its industry partners to advocate for the support we need to help our industries get to where we need to be."

Don Welsh, president and CEO of Destinations International, echoed the sentiments of DuBois, saying that as we enter the third year of the pandemic, it’s more important than ever that Congress acts to support the travel industry—including the business events industry, which has been among the hardest-hit sectors throughout the pandemic.

"We remain guardedly optimistic about the strong return of business events this year and know that meetings and events can take place safety thanks to protocols and safety measures being put in place," he said. "Restoring the international inbound market is crucial for the recovery of the country’s visitor economy, so we enthusiastically support these efforts to fund Brand USA and its mission of promoting the country abroad." 

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.