“We’ve got to keep the bad guys out of the country. Simple as that,” Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association told reporters in Washington D.C. last week. “But we have to offset [that with] the clear message that all business and leisure travellers are welcome.”
Dow was speaking to the elephant in the room at this year’s IPW travel conference – U.S. President Donald Trump, his administration’s policies on immigration, international travel and the damaging impact it has (or will have) on United States tourism.
“The president has a tendency to talk real fast,” Dow told reporters at a press conference last week at Walter E. Washington Convention Center, which hosted IPW from June 4-7. “We’re concerned about the rhetoric [but] we’re going to work with the President…we will help bring him around.”
“He’s a hotelier. He should understand this. He does understand this.”
Dow’s remarks were one of many takes on the Trump administration, which steered plenty of discourse at IPW 2017, an annual travel trade show and conference that, this year, welcomed 6,400 attendees from 70 countries, including more than 1,300 international and domestic travel buyers and a record 530 journalists.
The jam-packed event, said to be the single largest generator of international travel to the U.S., convened in Washington, D.C., for the first time in its history.
The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C., which hosted IPW for the first time in history.
The historical city was a fitting backdrop to ask questions about the Trump administration, which is currently attempting to impose a travel ban on people entering the United States from six Muslim-majority nations. (The proposed ban hit another legal setback on June 12, as a U.S. federal appeals court refused to revive Trump's plans).
The conference also unfolded as Brand USA, a federally-funded organization dedicated to marketing the U.S. overseas as a travel destination, and premier partner of IPW, reportedly faces elimination as the President aims to eliminate the deficit while shifting funding to border security.
The unifying message at this year’s IPW, now in its 49th year, combatted all perceptions that America's brand is in trouble and that the U.S. is no longer a welcoming place for international travellers.
As such, IPW organizers and participating partners adopted the theme “One Big Welcome,” greeting attendees with complementing imagery on the marketplace floor.
View from above: the trade show floor at IPW 2017 in Washington D.C.
“Our country’s policies are sending the wrong message,” Dow said, noting that the U.S. Travel Association has “had to fight this perception before” when 9/11 happened. “We’re going to be out there, working on changing that perception.”
“I promise you – we will not stop working to make sure that the voice of international travellers gets heard by the most important people here in this country.”
Dow also quashed any beliefs that Brand USA is at risk of disappearing. “Brand USA is here to stay,” Dow affirmed, noting that the organization was responsible for adding $8.9 billion to the U.S. economy last year.
Christopher Thompson, president and CEO of Brand USA, acknowledged the challenges his organization faces in today’s political landscape, specifically in regards to making sure “our friends and visitors around the world know that they are welcome.”
“In our efforts, we’re focusing on the diversity in our country as far as geography and experiences, but also the diversity of our people,” Thompson told press before unrolling a promo video illustrating Brand USA’s latest imagery campaign, fittingly called 'One Big Welcome.'
The campaign features real-life Americans talking about their home state or city, why it’s unique, and why visitors should go there.
“It gives everybody an opportunity to send a welcome message,” Thompson told press.
Ensuring that visitors know they are welcome was a key talking point for the many U.S. destinations that held press conferences to highlight their latest attractions, hotels and tourism numbers.
Fred Dixon, president and CEO, NYC & Company, wasted no time in acknowledging “the elephant in the room.”
“NYC has been and always will be the most diverse, welcoming and exciting destination, we think, in the entire country. While we don’t control the borders, we will always be an advocate of legitimate international travel whether for business or for leisure. New York City depends on it,” Dixon told journalists.
“We must strike a balance between secure borders and open doors,” Dixon added.
Fred Dixon, president and CEO, NYC & Company speaks to media at IPW 2017 in Washington D.C.
New York City has the most active hotel developments in the U.S. at this time, with 113,000 hotel rooms as of May 2017 and an expected 137,000 hotel rooms by 2019. The Big Apple welcomed 60.7 million visitors in 2016, the city’s seventh consecutive year for record-breaking tourism.
It’s numbers like that which beg the question of whether the Trump administration is having any impact at all on U.S. tourism.
Early reports are optimistic. According to the U.S. Travel Association’s latest Travel Trends Index (TTI), more international visitors came to the U.S. than expected in April 2017, defying any expectations of slowed growth or decline in reaction to President Trump’s controversial orders.
In fact, TTI data indicates that international travel into the United States increased by about four per cent year-over-year in April. “We’re watching these trends very closely,” Dow told reporters, noting that inbound tourism from Asia is up by 4.4 per cent.
This year’s IPW event is expected to have a positive economic impact on Washington D.C. with organizers expecting it to generate $1.7 billion in the District, and attract 1 million additional visitors for the next three years, the U.S. Travel Association stated in a release.
As a means of generating public interest, all media covering this year’s IPW were given an opportunity to partake in one of many city tours organized by Destination D.C., from night tours of the National Mall to outdoor activities to samples of Michelin-starred cuisine.
World-class entertainment was also at hand - attendees were treated to a surprise performance by pop star Ne-Yo, as well as live snippets from big-budget NYC shows such as Blue Man Group, Waitress, Beautiful: the Carole King Story, Cats, The Phantom of the Opera and Anastasia.
R&B pop singer Ne-Yo wows attendees at IPW 2017.
PAX participated in a lively tour of Washington D.C.’s many monuments, museums (many of of which are free to visit) and historical sites, via Segway, led by city tour operator Bike and Roll, offering fresh perspectives of a happening city typically seen through the political lens of CNN.
The 50th IPW will be held in Denver, Colorado, from May 19-23, 2018.
“I personally can’t wait to party with you at Red Rocks,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock enthusiastically told media, referring to the iconic, open-air, geologically-formed amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado, 10 miles west of Denver, which will be the venue for IPW’s 2018 closing party.
Mayor of Denver, Colorado, Michael Hancock, speaks to media on a Red Rocks-inspired stage at IPW 2017 in Washington D.C.
Red Rocks Amphitheatre was famously the site where rock band U2 filmed their 1983 concert film Under A Blood Red Sky. The Beatles also played there in 1964.
Attendees who sign up for IPW 2018 will have plenty of opportunities to snap a selfie with Denver’s playful mascot, the blue “I See What You Mean" bear, a nod to the 40-foot-high Blue Bear sculpture that can be seen peeking into the windows of Denver’s Colorado Convention Center.
“Colorado has so much to offer,” Annika Klint, director Canada at Colorado Tourism Office – Canada, told PAX, noting the outdoor state’s notable skiing, hiking and biking scenes. “You get suppliers, visitors coming in for the first time to experience it. It’s hugely beneficial.”
For more information, visit ipw.com.