The post Covid future National Travel and Tourism Week edition

Arnie Weissmann

National Travel and Tourism Week is underway, and Wednesday is National Travel Advisor Day.

The first full week in May also celebrates — nationally — teachers, hoagies, intimate apparel (#underfashion) and candied orange peel. Teachers aside, these are, of course, industry-launched holidays, initiatives to lure the attention of the press or, better yet, trend in social media.

In this specialized corner of marketing, the competition is fierce, but I would imagine that more than one journalist might take note of National Travel and Tourism Week, if only for the irony of there being, perhaps for the first time in recorded history, almost no travel and tourism during National Travel and Tourism Week.

All of these promotional days, weeks and even months have a dual purpose: one facing outwards, the other, in. They can be as much an intramural bonding experience for an industry as they are a vehicle to inspire others to recognize and celebrate its importance.

And, more than in most years, elements within the travel ecosystem are in need of demonstrations of mutual support. National Travel Advisor Day, in particular, has brought out a muscular display of encouragement from suppliers, an acknowledgement of interdependence and the important role that advisors will play in suppliers’ recovery once the crisis ends.

U.S. Travel’s primary initiative for National Travel and Tourism Week — a Virtual Road Trip along Twitter’s digital thoroughfares — rests, as do so many travel marketing initiatives these past seven weeks, on faith that absence truly does make the heart grow fonder. From 9 a.m. Eastern to 6 p.m. Pacific today, from Washington, D.C., to California, states (and D.C.) will take turns shining a spotlight on their local cuisine, attractions, small businesses and even souvenirs.

U.S. Travel is in an interesting position, simultaneously promoting the upbeat spirit of tourism to the public while accurately portraying its desperate position in the halls of Congress. The two accounts are each honest narratives which, together, explain the need for fiscally healthy and serious-minded businesses to create or facilitate enriching, fun experiences. It is travel’s yin-yang.

The focus on the “fun” part of the equation used to be a barrier in getting policymakers to understand the economic sobriety and importance of the travel industry. U.S. Travel CEO Roger Dow and his team have done a remarkable job of explaining it in terms of employment, tax collection, balance of trade and knock-on benefits. Some states, such as Colorado, have also become savvy about positioning travel to their broader economy during National Travel and Tourism Week. The current disrupted state of the industry and its impact on the broader economy may well serve as poignant proof points in future lobbying efforts.

But it may also be hard to separate those proof points from the tangled and costly economic fallout all economic sectors are enduring. We have all, by silent and mutual agreement, quite reasonably decided not to ponder the ultimate consequences of the steps we’re taking to secure our survival. Impact of a multitrillion-dollar bailout on national debt? Can’t be helped. High-interest loans? Better than closing shop.

And some of these steps are specific to the travel industry and could impact future goodwill. Change a refund policy after accepting a booking? Give bonus credits and hope they understand. Discount rates, knowing it may take years to recover? I’m only as strong as my weakest competitor.

For the moment, we’ve all adopted Scarlett O’Hara’s philosophy as expressed in “Gone With the Wind”: I’ll think about it tomorrow.

That’s generally not a great approach to running an economy or a business, though our leaders have a great deal of experience and skill at kicking budgetary cans down the road. Uncertainty complicates everything; we’ll need to make “we’re all in this together” more than a slogan to get out of the hole we’re digging together.

So, what will the National Travel and Tourism Weeks of tomorrow look like? Ultimately — by 2022, I hope — not so different from the one in 2019.

Why? What’s different about travel and tourism compared to other industries — the candied orange peel trade, for sure; lingerie, maybe — is the multitude of ways that our customers are true partners in our products.

There would be no travel industry without our clients’ and guests’ capacity to be awed by landscapes, to connect with unfamiliar cultures, to be comforted by great service and to feel familial bonds strengthened through shared experiences.

And despite the fog of uncertainty that hinders our view forward, it’s a safe bet that, as long as humans are permitted to roam the earth, that’s not going to change.

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