Lisa Simon is the CEO/Executive Director of the International Inbound Travel Association.

“Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

Many in history have been credited with this quote, from modern-day politicians to 16th century Florentine philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli. No matter where it originated, it is IITA Chairman Peter van Berkel who has really brought the meaning to life for me. Peter has often used the phrase to illustrate IITA’s focus on the greater good throughout the pandemic.

There’s nothing like a crisis to bring people together – to help each other, to share issues and ideas, to inspire innovative solutions – all in hopes of better days ahead. That’s exactly what the inbound travel sector has done during this unprecedented crisis, and I believe, long-term, it will be stronger for it.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taxed this industry like no crisis before it. And yet, the inbound travel community remains optimistic. They know the business will be back, so they hang on with shoestring budgets and cast their focus to the future. While I can’t say the pandemic gave this industry a nice long vacation (as we sometimes hear from others in different industries or jobs), it has provided the time to reflect on how they do business and plan for a stronger, more sustainable travel industry. And it has inspired collaboration.

Collaboration is key to a robust recovery. We need everyone working toward common goals to rebuild an efficient and seamless travel ecosystem that will again deliver a generous trade surplus. And going forward, collaboration will deliver an industry that embraces sustainable travel and business practices.

Inbound operators have long had a unique role in U.S. sustainable travel given the demands from international travelers for eco-friendly products from businesses that demonstrate social responsibility. The pandemic has made room for organizations to reflect on their business values and operations and make adjustments that will make travel and tourism more sustainable and less straining on natural resources and local communities.

IITA and our members have maintained this bi-focal vision – short-term we must get the industry moving and be prepared to provide quality service expected from international visitors, and long-term we need to support a more sustainable industry that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local communities.

IITA’s role is to bring together the players needed to address specific issues and keep the lines of communications open. We find things get done faster and better when those responsible come together to brainstorm and create solutions cooperatively rather than in isolation.

Inbound operators, destination marketing organizations and travel suppliers are working together and with the federal government to smooth out the wrinkles caused by two and a half pandemic years strained by workforce shortages, travel restrictions, and low or no revenue flowing from international travelers.

Establishing and maintaining positive relationships result in having a seat at the table when decisions are made. For example, we’re working in tandem with government agencies to ensure the inbound industry has a voice and is consulted when decisions are being made.

Whether it’s working with the National Travel and Tourism Office to provide market intel and the U.S. State Department to identify pain points around the world as they work to reduce the extensive wait times for visas in non-visa waiver countries, or collaborating with the National Park Service on how to improve the visitor experience, like directing travelers to lesser-known sites to relieve the pressure on the most popular parks, IITA knows these relationships are crucial for coming away with solutions that work for inbound operators and international visitors.

Another quote that guides our work is from Harry Truman. “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” When we collaborate and build on each other’s ideas, it doesn’t matter where we started. It only matters that our efforts result in a robust and sustainable international inbound travel industry.

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By Lisa Simon

To learn more about the 2022 Titans of Tourism, visit the December issue of Leisure Group Travel.