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WASHINGTON, D.C. — While business travel remains a core market for the chauffeured transportation industry, the much larger leisure segment of travel brings much profit potential for operators as well.
One resource that can help operators gain business is the U.S. Travel Association (U.S. Travel), which promotes growth in the business and leisure travel markets. As statistics show, national leisure travel revenues more than double those of business travel. That adds up to a lot of international visitors, especially from leading foreign source China, as well as domestic vacations, staycations and outings. In fact, domestic leisure travel now comprises about 70% of all travel activity in the U.S.
In trying to drum up more business or leisure travel, operators can plug into the multiple efforts and resources of U.S. Travel, now in its 74th year. The group advocates and lobbies on behalf of its members. While the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) may get more attention in the limousine industry because of its emphasis on business travel worldwide, U.S. Travel works across a broader spectrum of the travel industry to generate more business into and within the United States only. The umbrella group spans 18 different vertical segments of the travel industry and partners with about 100 travel-related associations. (GBTA is not a formal member of U.S. Travel).
“While we run like a business, we behave like a start-up,” says Gary Oster, U.S. Travel’s executive vice president of member services and managing director of Project: Time Off, a campaign to get more Americans to use their vast unused vacation days. “We do whatever we can to grow the pie. We know the competition within the industry is healthy, so our goal is to make sure that pie is always growing.”
During the last four years, international inbound travel has increased by 20 million visitors. “We are saying the doors are open, please come to America,” Oster says. U.S. Travel works with the Presidential Administration and the Departments of Interior and Commerce to develop a national tour and travel strategy.
“Travel is good from an economic impact point of view,” he says. “It just makes horizons broader. When more visitors come to the U.S. and see how great our country is with its friendly people, they’ll go back home and say America is not like what we first heard. We think travel is a great barrier remover, and a great brain changer.”
Limo Industry Benefits
U.S. Travel’s efforts to increase travel directly benefit the chauffeured transportation and charter motorcoach industries, especially when spurring more meetings and convention business, Oster says. “We’re constantly finding opportunities that encourage people to travel. We automatically support the ground transportation sector because of the increased business we create. The chauffeured and charter providers get a big list of business because of U.S. Travel.”
When asked about transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber, Oster replied that U.S. Travel does not have an official position on them. But Oster is quick to point out that he, fellow executives and board members routinely use traditional chauffeured transportation when traveling for business. He even named one of his preferred vendors, a limousine company based in the Orlando, Fla.-region.
“A lot of times it’s better to use a private car,” Oster says. “If I want to prepare for a meeting in the car, it’s good to have someone else focusing on the driving. I’ll pay for that any day. We do it a lot at U.S. Travel. We are believers.”
Among the programs and activities that can benefit operators:
- The Travel Promotion Act of 2009 — advanced by U.S. Travel, approved by Congress and signed by President Obama — created a national market organization called Brand USA that deploys a $200 million marketing budget promoting the U.S. to travelers worldwide. Congress must authorize the public-private enterprise every five years.
- U.S. Travel works to remove or streamline entry barriers, such as the visa process. In one example, the group helped get the process for visitors from China and Brazil, two of the fastest growing sources of foreign visitors to the U.S., whittled down from 150-180 days to five to six days, Oster says.
- U.S. Travel helped persuade the Department of Customs and Borders to add another 2,500 officers at Customs points to receive visitors faster. “Ground transportation is the next most important experience for an international visitor after Customs,” Oster says. “Many are bedraggled after waiting two to four hours after flying 12-14 hours. It’s important for us to have travelers’ voice and experience in mind.”