Governors focus on travel and tourism recovery at NGA summer meeting

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

At the NGA Summer Meeting, Governors met with key tourism and travel industry leaders to discuss how the industry continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The discussion also focused on the significant economic impact the industry has on states, businesses and individual Americans.

WITH President and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson opened the plenary by noting how the vital travel and tourism industry “promotes billions of dollars in economic activity and tens of thousands of jobs in our economies. Beyond the financial impact, though, getting out there and exploring the 55 states and territories provides all kinds of benefits. It enhances mental well-being, sparks curiosity and creates goodwill.”

Tori Emerson Barnes, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy, USA Travel Association, then moderated a discussion with the panelists:

  • Amir Eylon, President and CEO, Partner, Longwoods International;
  • Al Hutchinson, President and CEO, Visit Baltimore.
  • Keiko Matsudo Orrall, Executive Director, Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism; and
  • Chris Thompson, President and CEO, Brand USA.

Panelists provided insight into how the industry continues to recover after the significant downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Regarding international travel numbers, for example, panelists explained that current projections show that the United States likely will not return to 2019 international visitor numbers until 2025. While travel has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, participants expressed optimism about the industry’s resilience and several positive trends, including increased consumer demand for travel and the return and creation of jobs. Panelists also discussed some of the trends they’re seeing in Americans’ travel preferences and concerns, with the majority of traveler safety concerns about COVID overshadowed by concerns about inflation, high gas prices and the complications of air travel.

Governors faced a number of challenges and opportunities they see in their states and territories.

Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi shared the region’s tourism industry “had a record year last year… believe it or not, in the middle of the pandemic, and this year we’re doing even better. The Governor shared how Puerto Rico decided to target American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funding to hotels. Puerto Rico has a Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) and Governor Pierluisi “targeted ARPA funding to double our DMO funding. In Puerto Rico, this DMO called Discover Puerto Rico was created several years ago … it promotes Puerto Rico on a consistent basis … and I tell my fellow Governors to think [utilizing a DMO] because it works.”

Maine Governor Janet Mills shared examples of successful ways Maine has helped tourism industry staff navigate the health and safety standards implemented during the pandemic to help both workers and tourists. “One thing we did,” Governor Mills said, “was to use our community colleges to create a sort of three-week safety and health training program so that people who work in the hospitality industry … are trained in safety measures and hygiene.” The Governor also shared that while Maine has yet to return to the tourism numbers seen in 2019, “tourism spending is much higher than it has ever been.” The Governor also expressed concern that Maine and other states are facing labor shortages, which are proving to be a “significant barrier to the supply of labor for industry.”

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu echoed concerns about workforce housing challenges, sharing that young people want to work but “can’t afford it. There is literally no place for them to live. They don’t want to drive an hour to work in a hotel.” Governor Sununu also addressed how the rise of the Vacation Rentals by Owner (Vrbo) industry has created a “major economic shift” in the industry that he believes needs to be addressed.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker also expressed his concerns about how housing shortages are affecting the tourism industry in Massachusetts, stating that “we’ve started building housing in different places and supporting the construction of housing on the Cape specifically for people who are going to work there because there is nowhere for them to go.”

Gov. Doug Burgum’s North Dakota examined some of the unique considerations facing the 13 states that share a border with Canada, including challenges arising from reduced staffing at border crossings, making it more difficult for Canadians to visit the United States for travel or other economic engagement. Governor Burgum also noted “one of the things I see in our state is that the tourism business has not adopted enough technology” and “there are technology solutions that would really reduce the demand for the amount of labor that we need … and we” would makes a push in North Dakota to secure equal automation tax credits for the service industry.”

Watch the full session:

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