But He Handles Them with Ease: One is inclined to believe that Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, and the de facto spokesperson for the whole of the U.S. travel industry, actually enjoys being grilled at news conferences. Perhaps it is because he is like a game show contestant who always has the right answer or, more likely, he wants journalists to understand, to get, his point of view.
While he speaks rapidly, he is relaxed and always seems well-informed about a matter when asked about it, readily citing studies and offering up figures and data to support or illustrate a point. Following are some of the tougher questions asked of Dow last week during his IPW news conference, along with his answers, which were only slightly edited for clarity.
Question: The first journalist asked, more or less: What it is the holdup in adding more countries to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities for travelers to the United States? With this process, travelers to the USA go through a pre-clearance check in order to reduce congestion and long lines at customs clearance facilities in U.S. airports.
Dow: “We have pre-clearance right now in Canada, with eight destinations; Ireland, there are two—When I went to World Travel Market last year, I flew through Ireland and, I’ll tell you, that the experience was great coming back—UAE, Abu Dhabi; Bahamas, Freeport and Nassau; and Bermuda. Now, what is coming is Sweden and other countries we’re talking to—what has to happen is both the airlines and the countries have to agree on (it). But Brazil, Argentina, Costa Rica, Poland, Israel, Romania, Croatia, and Bulgaria. We’d like to get them on board as soon as possible.
“We’re pushing very hard for next year. Right now, it looks like Sweden. It’s a phenomenal program, and one of the great things it does is help shorten those lines and get people out of lines. So, we’re pushing very hard
“I just finished talking to our delegates from JATA (Japan Association of Travel Agents) in Japan about how importance it is to get pre-clearance in Narita and Haneda airports. It’s important for traffic to Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast and Hawaii. So, any help that you can be by pushing the pressure on … let’s get pre-clearance done around the world. It would be very helpful.”
Question: The query from Graham McKenzie of TravelMole had to do with what the U.S. and President are doing to reign in gun violence in the United States: “In your chats with president about security … I wonder if the issue is about guns that are already here. There have been 150 mass shootings and about 6,000 people died from gun wounds in the U.S. to date this year, I wonder if that report got through to the President.”
Dow: “This is an issue that you and I have talked about before. I’m a parent. I’m very disturbed where something (like shootings) happens in the U.S. or anywhere else around the world. I mean, this is horrific. But the issue is pretty complicated.
“People on both sides are extraordinarily passionate about it all over the political spectrum. The policy is debated outside our area, but what we believe in is that security and safety are so important. There is literally nowhere in the U.S. that I wouldn’t take my family or recommend to anyone else.
“That said, all solutions have to be on the table for this, and it is so important. We track may not come to the United States. The number one reason is the strength of the dollar or the cost (of travel). Creeping up to number two or three is concern over crime. So, the need to get this issue addressed is critical and we’ve got to address it. I don’t have the solution, but it something that we’re going to be at the table and saying, ’Let’s get everything on the table and figure it out.’”
Question: Laura Powell from Skift asked this: “The elephant in the room is obviously China and what’s been happening in terms of the recent travel advisory that China issued on the U.S., ostensibly because of crime and that type of thing, and also—just honestly—a possible, looming trade war and the fact that China, in the past, has been able to dissuade visitors to South Korea, etc. What is the U.S. doing to prepare for those possibilities?”
Dow: “This is a dialogue that we have a lot. Visitation from China to the United States slipped by 200,000 from 3.2 million in 2017 to 3 million this past year. We’ve also seen a similar slip from Japan and South Korea. People are quick to say, ‘Oh, it’s a trade war.’ Where we’re starting to be concerned, though, is … we’re watching the most recent announcement is that type of trade. We’re watching very closely. We’re saying to the government, ‘Let’s get this trade thing behind us fast.’ Because, as we said, travel is trade, and it’s so important to get this behind us. So, we’re pushing very hard.
“China has done this about every six months. About six months ago, they issued a warning for the U.S. because of crime and high health care costs. It happened again. We’re trying to see if this is related to trade wars or not. Chris Thompson (president and CEO of Brand USA) and our colleagues have very close relationships with folks in China—Chairman Li (Jinzao), chairman of the China National Tourism Administration. I am vice chairman of Chinese World Tourism Alliance. Chris has hosted leaders from 31 provinces in China.
“So, we’re doing everything we can on the travel side to get both of us saying ‘This is so important to both countries for understanding and all that. Don’t through travel into this political game that is going on.’ We’re watching it. We’re monitoring it. We letting everyone know with a very loud voice that travel should not be used as a weapon.”
Question: A journalist wondered aloud what kind of impact additional questions asked of travelers to the U.S. that ask for social media information will have.
Dow: “First, as I said earlier, security is number one. The U.S. State Department has moved just recently to something that they’ve been vetting for over a year-and-a-half right now to ask a few standard questions on the social media, etc. We just met yesterday with the State Department on this because we want to watch this very carefully. The State Department says that it’s just a pull-down menu and you check one of these areas. The State Department values privacy—you do not have to give them your passcode, your password or anything like that.
“We’re watching it. We want smart, effective technology and, if the questions they’re asking aren’t making a difference … I go back to this: for 16 years, we asked people at airports, ‘Did anyone you don’t know ask to give you something to carry with you?’ Finally, after 16 years, they said, ‘This probably doesn’t make any sense.’ So, we’re having a dialogue. We just yesterday spoke with the State Department. Let’s really watch this and let’s make sure we are not providing an impediment to for people not to go here.”