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Members of Congress and their political challengers won’t be the only ones hitting the trail this year. Complete with a campaign-style bus, the U.S. Travel Association is planning a $5 million nationwide push to highlight its issues with lawmakers.
The association — which represents travel industry players such as Disney, major airlines and local convention and visitors bureaus — plans to launch its “Vote Travel” bus tour March 21 at Union Station, with an official kickoff set for April in Las Vegas. The group will also take advantage of the quadrennial political conventions this summer in Tampa, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C., to showcase its sector.
“We’re such a fun industry that promotes travel and vacations, meetings and conventions that policymakers don’t really understand that this is serious business,” U.S. Travel President and CEO Roger Dow said. “We decided we’re going to tackle this and get our message out there visually and across the country.”
U.S. Travel has begun reaching out to Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to participate in the bus tour events. For example, the group plans to invite Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and others for the Las Vegas leg.
It also has drafted a pledge it wants Members and candidates to sign. “I pledge to the American people that I will support policies that safely and effectively reduce barriers to travel to and within the United States,” the “Get America Moving” pledge states.
The group’s policy priorities include measures that reduce security and visa hassles associated with travel; efforts to promote small businesses because most of the travel industry players have 500 or fewer employees; and U.S. investment in promoting travel and tourism. The group also has urged politicians not to criticize corporate retreats and conventions for fear that canceled functions will hurt the sector’s bottom line.
President Barack Obama in January gave the industry a boost when he traveled to Disney World in Florida to announce his travel promotion policy, which includes expediting tourist visa applications and creating an interagency task force to promote tourism at national parks, wildlife refuges, and cultural and historic sites.
U.S. Travel spokesman Blain Rethmeier said the unveiling of the Vote Travel bus in D.C. will coincide with the group’s annual board meeting. There the group will release a five-point plan, a proposal to stimulate the travel industry.
“We’re running this very similar to a political campaign,” Rethmeier said. “We feel like it presents us an opportunity to engage policymakers as they’re out there on the campaign trail. The benefits of having a strong travel and tourism industry need to be part of the conversation.”
Over the spring and summer, the Vote Travel bus will make several stops at big cities such as Los Angeles, Dallas and Miami as well as at American landmarks such as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.
U.S. Travel plans to dispatch operatives to Tampa and Charlotte well in advance of the conventions to encourage hotel, taxi and other tourism workers to wear Vote Travel buttons. The association also will buy advertising in the cities and bring its bus to town.
“It’s a challenge with all the varying interests to try to break through at a convention. So we see our opportunity in trying to tell the story before the events actually take place,” Rethmeier said. “The hope is that when you get off the airplane, you’ll see all these Vote Travel buttons and other visuals, so policymakers will be able to say, ‘Wow, the travel industry is really making this possible.’”
Dow said U.S. Travel won’t endorse a candidate for president, but the association’s political action committee, TRAVEL PAC, will dole out contributions in Congressional races.
The 4-year-old PAC has gone from a start of about $30,000 to more than $200,000 this cycle. “It’s the way business is done,” Dow said.