Governors focus on travel and tourism recovery at NGA summer meeting

A look at governors’ discussions with travel and tourism industry leaders about the industry’s impact on economic activity and job creation.

At the NGA Summer Meeting, executives met with key leaders in the tourism and travel industry to discuss how the industry continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Discussion also focused on the industry’s significant economic impact on states, businesses and individual Americans.

With the Head and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson opened the plenary by noting that the vital travel and tourism industry “contributes billions of dollars in economic activity and tens of thousands of jobs to our economies. However, aside from the economic impact, traveling there and exploring the 55 states and territories has all kinds of benefits. It improves mental well-being, sparks curiosity and builds goodwill.”

Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy at the USA Travel Association, moderated the discussion with panelists:

  • Amir Eilon, President and CEO, Partner, Longwoods International;
  • Al Hutchinson, President and CEO of Visit Baltimore;
  • Keiko Matsudo Orrall, executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism; and
  • Chris Thompson, President and CEO of Brand USA.

Panelists spoke about how the industry continues to recover after a significant downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, regarding the number of international trips, the panelists explained that current projections show that the United States will likely not return to the 2019 figure until 2025. While travel has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, panelists expressed optimism about the industry’s resilience and many positive trends, including increased consumer demand for travel and returning and job creation. The panelists also detailed some of the trends they’re seeing in Americans’ travel preferences and concerns, with most traveler safety concerns about COVID overshadowed by concerns about inflation, high gas prices and air travel complications.

The governors discussed a number of challenges and opportunities they see in their states and territories.

Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi shared information about the territory’s tourism industry: “last year was a record year … believe it or not, in the midst of a pandemic, and this year we are doing even better.” The governor explained how Puerto Rico decided to direct funding to hotels under the United States Emergency Response Plan Act (ARPA). Puerto Rico has a Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) and Governor Pierluisi “targeted ARPA funding to double funding for our DMO. In Puerto Rico, a DMO called Open Puerto Rico was created a few years ago…it is constantly promoting Puerto Rico…and I tell my fellow governors to think about [utilizing a DMO] because it works.”

Man Governor Janet Mills shared examples of successful ways Maine has helped tourism industry workers navigate the health and safety standards put in place during the pandemic to help both workers and tourists. “One thing we’ve done,” Governor Mills said, “is use our colleges to create something like a three-week health and safety training program so that people who work in the hospitality industry … are trained in safety and sanitation. . .” The governor also shared that while Maine has yet to return to tourism numbers in 2019, “tourist spending is much higher than it’s ever been.” The governor also expressed concern that Maine and other states are facing a workforce housing shortage that is a “major barrier to providing industry with a workforce.”

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu echoed concerns about workforce housing, sharing that young people want to work but “can’t afford it. They literally have nowhere to live. They don’t want to go to a hotel for an hour to work.” Governor Sununu also talked about how the growth of the home rental by owner (Vrbo) industry has caused “major economic changes” in the industry that he believes need to be addressed.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker also expressed concern about how the housing shortage is affecting the tourism industry in Massachusetts, noting that “we’ve actually started building housing in different places and we’re supporting housing on the Cape specifically for people who are going to work there because they don’t have where to go.”

Gov. Doug Burgum North Dakota examines some of the unique considerations faced by the 13 states that share a border with Canada, including the challenges of reduced staffing at border crossings, making it difficult for Canadians to visit the United States for travel or other economic activities. Governor Burgum also noted that “one of the things I see in our state is that the tourism business has not embraced enough technology,” and “there are technological solutions that would actually reduce the demand for the amount of labor that we have is needed … and we’re going to make a push in North Dakota to provide equal automation tax credits for the service sector.”

Watch the full session:

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