Industry insiders agree that the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has changed the travel industry forever, and when asked if he ever thought he would experience something like this crisis, Roger Dow, president and CEO, U.S. Travel Association, the Washington, D.C.-based organization representing all segments of travel in America, remarks, “Not in a million years. I thought September 11 was the worst thing ever, followed by the economic crisis. We put this on a factor of nine times the impact of September 11.”
The travel industry must come together as a whole, he says. “States, cities, and feds working together will make the major difference,” explains Dow.
With this in mind, at press time, Dow was arranging a call with CEOs of all the major corporations in the travel industry, theme parks, convention centers, and airlines. “We must put the policies and procedures in place we all can follow. Protocols will change. Housekeeping standards will change. The more we do that together as an industry, the better off we will be.”
Here is what else Dow had to say during our far-reaching interview:
Andrea Doyle (AD): How does the industry come back?
Roger Dow (RD): We are going to get out of this slowly and gradually. It is not going to be by July 1st when everything is forgotten, and people are on planes, hotels are at 100 percent, and everybody goes to every meeting, that’s just not going to happen.
It’s going to take a combination of people feeling safe and protocols on behalf of the industry.
As an industry, we have to really step up and control our own destiny and come together and not get ourselves in a situation that my venue is safer than your venue or whatever.
Consumers are not going to travel extensively until they feel that health officials have given them a green light or a milder risk factor than what they presently feel right now.
I’ve seen a lot of research that says basically, any one of those things will be helpful, but will not move the needle more than 25 percent. When states, cities, and the feds get together with the right trusted messaging, it will make a major difference.
There are going to be the early adopters, they’re going to start traveling again as soon as the green light happens, and I’ll be one of them. There’s going to be a whole lot of other people that are going to wait and see. They will say to themselves, ‘Let Roger and Andrea go out there and when they come back and say their experience was good, well, then I’ll think about taking my trip.’
(AD): What will be a step in the right direction?
(RD): A big factor is going to be corporate travel policy. When this thing started rearing its head, corporations quickly put out travel policies saying you’re not to go to meetings, you’re not to travel. We’re going to have to get the corporate traffic policies pulled back at the right time when it’s meaningful to do so.
(AD): Short term, do you think travel will be more regional?
(RD): I think you’re going to see the world become very domestic for the next six months to a year. And then we’ll slowly see international open up again. After September 11th, people said no one will travel or meet internationally, and that didn’t happen. It was a fact for about a year-and-a-half, two years, but it quickly came back bigger than it has ever come back.
(AD): If there’s a silver lining to all this, what do you think it is?
(RD): The silver lining is the industry coming together and speaking with a more unified voice. I also believe it is going to be cleaner and healthier for people to travel. We have also had half a dozen organizations that had no interest in being part of US Travel in the past reach out to say they want to be in the mix. More are starting to realize we are in this together.
(AD): What will be needed to start traveling again?
(RD): I’m on the President’s Recovery Task Force among a couple of hundred people, including CEOs from all the major hotel chains, cruise lines, etc. and at our first meeting, the overwhelming sentiment was testing, testing, testing.
I would like to see our industry step forward and say, ‘Every one of our employees is tested and are coronavirus free, and we test them on a frequent basis.’ That would be a big step by the industry in saying, “We want you to know that the people that you come in contact with in our hotels, in our convention centers, are safe to be around, and we take it seriously, and we put these practices in place.”
You are also going to see changes. Restaurants are going to start using paper menus that they throw away after every patron. Gone are laminated menus that are used over and over again for a while. I think you’ll see things like that changing, more drastic in these first few months.
(AD): In conclusion, anything else you would like to add?
(RD): Our industry has been hit disproportionately harder than any other industry. At present, one-third of the unemployed are from our industry, and we represent 3 percent of the GDP. This industry is going to hurt much harder, but it’s also the industry that will lead our economy back. When people start traveling and meeting, business starts taking off, deals start getting done, people start selling their products. Our industry, while we’ve been hurt the hardest, will be critical to leading the economy back.