Travel played a pivotal part in many of 2016’s biggest stories. The Zika virus raised concerns about travel to affected U.S. states. Terror attacks threatened international visitation. Self-interested policy campaigns from major U.S. airlines threatened to reduce overseas flight options for flyers already squeezed by dwindling options. Our nation’s aviation and surface transportation infrastructure is in dire need of improvement, and our economy cannot afford another crisis like the TSA wait times we saw early this summer.
There’s no doubt that 2016 was a year of storm clouds for travel. Still, 2017 already is shaping up to be one of the busiest travel years of all time. The new administration and Congress have hit the ground running with an ambitious agenda, and new challenges will likely present themselves before the year is out. We do, however, have three things in our corner when it comes to working with lawmakers on solutions for travel:
• Travel is a linchpin of America’s economy;
• Travel is our country’s greatest soft diplomacy tool; and
• U.S. Travel has worked successfully with administrations on both sides of the aisle throughout our 75-year existence.
That last point is especially important. The U.S. Travel Association was essentially born from adversity, founded to counteract years of wartime "don’t travel" appeals from the government. Within its first 100 days, the new administration and Congress will make important decisions on issues affecting the travel industry — and U.S. Travel will be there every step of the way.
We will be heavily focused on improving our country's roads, rails and airports. We are heartened by the Trump campaign’s attention to America’s infrastructure, and will work with the new administration on projects including airport improvements (and ensuring the proper funding mechanisms are in place to make them happen). We remain dedicated to preserving and expanding the Visa Waiver Program, the existence and effectiveness of which are proof positive that security and efficiency are not mutually exclusive. We will continue to advocate for increased connectivity, expanding air service and preserving our Open Skies agreements with other nations, while pushing for reform to our aviation security systems.
Travel bridges divides, supports communities and creates jobs, and it is our duty to make sure our lawmakers know this and act accordingly. We must keep America an attractive, welcoming destination, and keep travelers moving within our country. Given our legislative history, our economic clout, and the importance of travel to our way of life, we are confident that we will be able to engage with President-elect Trump effectively and productively.
Patricia Rojas-Ungár serves as vice president of government relations for the U.S. Travel Association, leading the development of U.S. Travel’s policy agenda and representing the travel community before the Executive Branch and U.S. Congress. Rojas-Ungár uses more than a decade of legislative and advocacy experience to advance federal policies and regulations that will increase travel to and within the United States.