How our organization is creating initiatives to combat the new reality of the global travel marketplace
During the IITA Summit this year in St. Petersburg, Florida, the travel industry was at early stages of conversations about the coronavirus, as there were a few cases just reported in the United States. From that point on, travel to and within the United States got lighter and lighter as people became more and more concerned about the rapidly spreading COVID-19. COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill.
Businesses shut down, borders closed, airlines were grounded and people around the world were forced into self-isolation by stay-at-home orders to keep the disease from spreading. The travel industry came to a screeching halt. As the world responded to the coronavirus pandemic, businesses quickly transformed their operations to remote work environments while dealing with concerns about the health and safety of their employees and customers. Millions of travel professionals began working from home, hosting virtual meetings and attending webinars like never before.
According to the U.S. Travel Association, 15.8 million travel-related jobs in the U.S. have disappeared since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic – just 90 days – driving an unemployment number (51%) that was more than double that of the country as a whole (about 20%).
THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY WAS CHANGED FOREVER.
The U.S. travel industry quickly initiated advocacy efforts for federal funding programs to keep the people and businesses of the travel and tourism industry top-of-mind for lawmakers as they considered economic relief packages. IITA and its members worked along other industry associations and organizations to place specific focus on international inbound travel as a means of boosting the economy. Inbound travel has been the top American service export for many years.
In addition to advocacy efforts, IITA has supported its members throughout the crisis by:
- Providing numerous online resources, including updated U.S. travel policies, financial aid opportunities and news concerning DMOs and their visitor updates.
- Providing education and webinars on business continuity topics such as financial assistance; protecting their businesses through insurance, contract terms and negotiations; leading through change; adapting to remote work processes; as well as a number of member forums and thought leader panels to keep its community in touch with each other and learning about things that can help them prepare their businesses going forward.
- Creating a Technology Task Force responsible for educating IITA members on technology options. Technology has become even more essential for staying connected to co-workers and partners, and there are lots of options to explore, particularly in the travel distribution area. IITA partnered with OpenTravel Alliance to promote the benefits of open source travel technology standards and to ensure the tour operator’s needs are considered in the development of such standards. The benefit of open source standards is that when everyone uses the same specifications, technology solutions become more cost effective for all.
- Converting its Inbound Insider Steps to Success program to virtual workshops to keep training travel suppliers how to build international business and develop interesting products and services. Powered by ALON Marketing Group, the program was established to ensure the U.S. travel industry is prepared for international business – a mission even more important now as international visitors return.
- Distributing this magazine – Inbound Insider – to international tour operators, travel agents and other travel buyers with complimentary listings of all members, including detailed profiles of inbound tour operator members. International buyers can count on their partners at IITA to help with the details of planning U.S. travel.
The good news is that travel always rebounds. The industry knows people will travel— it’s just a matter of time. No doubt, domestic travel will be the first to rebound in every country, including the United States. International travel will resume as well, but experts say it could be three years before it is restored to pre-COVID levels.
What will it take for travelers to feel safe to travel to the United States? Particularly from long-haul destinations that require hours spent in close quarters on long fights? Each business and sector in the travel and tourism industry must adopt and adhere to clear and consistent health and safety standards – not just throughout the U.S. but around the world – particularly related to air travel and airports, as they are the first touch points for international travelers.
IITA collaborated with the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) and other travel associations on developing health and safety protocols for the global travel industry and specifically within the U.S. travel industry.
IITA members are committed to these best practices to enable a robust recovery campaign when the conditions for international travel improve and are working with their trade partners keeping them informed of developments. The rules may change for how we travel and how we service our visitors, but the desire and intent to see the United States will always be there.
While the travel industry faces an uncertain future, IITA vows to be a source of stability and versatility in the face of this global crisis.