Where have all the international attendees gone?

Us border signby John Folks

It wasn’t that long ago that those of us in the business travel and convention industries were cringing at comments from our government officials and negative press around meetings and incentives. “Boondoggles,” “unnecessary extravagances,” and “shameful wasted spending” were common adjectives, and our industry felt the pressure as organizations pulled back on meetings.

However, over the last several years, President Obama has changed his position, at least in part due to the meetings industry economic impact study that was released a year ago. The Travel Promotion Act was enacted this past year, and last week, at Walt Disney World, President Obama announced the need for a national travel strategy that would include making the visa process easier for international visitors.

Why is this important? Estimates are that our cumbersome visa process kept over 70 million international visitors from entering the US over the last 10 years, which translated into over $600 billion in lost revenue. Yes, we all want to stay safe, but most western countries have an easier visa process and requirements than we do, and we need to be more competitive to show the international business community they are welcome at conventions on American soil. A travel strategy is a good start, but a strategy is merely a roadmap until someone takes the wheel and drives. Help spread the word that more needs to be done, and let’s hope there’s plenty of gas in the car.

Advertisements

Not the Rubber Glove!

Security Personelby Tom Baer

Being in an industry with a great deal of travel, the hassles of airport security are a constant thorn in my side.  Why are there always at least 4 or 5 screening stations, but only 1 or 2 are open?  Why do they insist on using body scanners when I am going through but only metal detectors when I am not?  Why do I always end up in line behind a family with two kids in separate strollers and a grandmother trying to carry on 3 giant cans of hair spray?

On my most recent trip however, I noticed a glimmer of hope.  After 20 minutes in line I made it to a sign which read “Children under 12 no longer need to remove shoes.”  Hallelujah. While I am sure it won’t be long before Al Qaeda will begin training 9 year olds in the art of shoe bomb making, for now this change will shave 90 seconds or so off my wait for an embarrassing pat-down and cavity search.

Actually, there is more realistic hope.  In case you haven’t heard, there is a pilot (pun intended) program going on right now in airports in Dallas, Atlanta, Detroit, and Miami, in which frequent fliers on Delta and American airlines are being ushered to shorter lines with a streamlined security process.  In order to participate, the fliers had to submit detailed profiles and go through government background checks.  TSA Assistant Administrator Chris McLaughlin says this system “expedites the process for people we know a lot about, and frees up resources for us to apply to individuals that we know less about who potentially pose a greater risk to aviation.”  In a day and age when none of us have any privacy anyway, the profile and background checks seem like a small price to pay for an express pass to the gate.

This test program is an initiative of the Obama administration, so kudos to them.  Whether politically motivated or not, anything that will help to shorten the lines through TSA-land can only help all of us who work in travel-related industries.  Unfortunately, it will be a while before the program is available to all of us.

In the mean time, how about at least opening up that 3rd lane!