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US Travel Industry Looks To Congress For Relief

Late last week the US travel industry presented its policy requests for the next coronavirus relief package to Congress amidst a new round of pandemic-related economic closures and fresh data that Americans are as wary as ever of travelling.

Industry proposals include:

  • Measures to help travel employers survive the worst of the downturn.
  • Assistance with health-related necessities such as robust sanitation and personal protective equipment.
  • And, eventually, incentives to get Americans safely travelling again when a reopening is fully possible.

And without this kind of broad and comprehensive federal assistance, industry leaders are fearful that the travel sector will remain in depression long after a recovery begins.

The industry pointed out that spikes in COVID-19 infections and subsequent re-closures in several U.S. states are certain to further delay a rebound in travel, which supported employment for one in 10 Americans before the pandemic but has since lost more than half of its 15.8 million related jobs.

And the latest polling data confirms that recent news has considerably worsened Americans’ overall feeling about returning to travel. The percentage of poll respondents who say they will travel this fall has slid to 36%, down from 50% in early June, according to Destination Analysts.

Meanwhile, Harris Poll figures show that:

  • 58% of leisure travellers say they will substitute vacations with staycations for the remainder of the year.
  • While 43% say they miss flying on a plane, only 37% say they feel safe flying right now.
  • 74% of business travellers are more likely to substitute business meetings that require flying with virtual meetings for the remainder of the year.
  • More than three-quarters (77%) of respondents support states enacting mandatory 14-day quarantines for out-of-state travellers from states with a high resurgence of COVID-19.

U.S. Travel Association president and CEO, Roger Dow says of the situation: “You name it, this industry and its workers need it. Travel businesses could not possibly have prepared for this level of catastrophe, and there’s no telling how many of the eight million jobs we’ve lost so far will remain gone for good without aggressive federal intervention to keep the industry on life support.”

Dow points out that: “Travel companies have worked hard to retain their workers, but most have had zero revenue coming in for four months now, and if they’re forced to close they won’t be around to rehire anybody even when travel is able to resume.”

And he adds that: “Our asks of Congress are big because the problem is massive, and is only growing right before our eyes.”

The industry’s legislative requests include:

  • Extending the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) until the end of the year; expand eligibility to destination marketing organizations (DMOs)—both non-profit and quasi-governmental entities that conduct economic development; increase the amount of the loan; and allow for a second loan. In any transition to a longer-term solution, DMOs and other non-profits should be included.
  • Providing up to $10 billion in federal grants to promote safe and healthy travel practices, which are crucial to the resumption of travel.
  • Providing temporary and targeted liability protections for travel businesses to reopen.
  • Creating temporary tax credits and deductions, including: a tax credit to encourage Americans to travel at the right time; a tax credit to restore activity in the business meetings and events sector, including conventions and trade shows; increase the deductibility of business and entertainment expenses; and a tax credit to help businesses of all sizes offset the cost of mitigating the spread of COVID-19, including the cost of structural barriers and personal protective equipment.
  • Enhancing the Employee Retention Tax Credit to increase business’ ability to retain and rehire workers.
  • Supporting airports.

However, Dow made it clear that government action alone will not move the nation closer to recovery, stating that: “In order for jobs to be able to return, everyone needs to be wearing masks in public. It is so very clear that masks and other good health practices are absolutely critical to dissipating the health crisis and making an economic rebound possible. The country’s collective record on this needs to improve, or the pain will only go on longer.”

U.S. Travel’s letter to the administration and congressional leaders outlining the full slate of policy proposals is available at https://www.ustravel.org/sites/default/files/media_root/document/UST_PhaseIVPriorities_07.17.20.pdf

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