Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010 | 1:55 a.m.
NEW ORLEANS – Seventy-two government agencies have cut their travel budgets because of environmental concerns, a top travel executive said, leading him to conclude that overzealous environmental policy could be the next roadblock facing the tourism industry.
Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, said in recent years the industry has gotten through 9/11, an increase in the cost of oil from $60 to $150 a barrel for the airlines, a swine flu scare, top government leaders blacklisting some resort cities that host conventions, a volcanic eruption and a major oil spill.
But no concern could be greater than environmental policy that discourages people from traveling to cut down on carbon dioxide emissions.
Dow made his remarks Monday to the 15th annual Boyd Group International Aviation Forecast Summit in New Orleans. The three-day event has drawn nearly 300 people to discuss aviation industry issues and to receive forecasts on aircraft fleets and passenger enplanements at the nation’s airports.
Mike Boyd, president of Evergreen, Colo.-based Boyd Group International, was expected to give his five-year projection for traffic at McCarran International Airport at the end of the conference Monday.
Dow said the U.S. travel industry lost ground in 2009, going from $770 billion in overall industry revenue in 2008 to $704 billion last year. He attributes the decline to the poor economy, which has reduced travel by 7 percent and resulted in a 10 percent to 15 percent decrease in lodging rates and ticket prices.
While the lower rates have encouraged people to travel more, they haven’t enabled the industry to rebound to 2007 levels, which Dow doesn’t expect to happen until 2012 or 2013.
Government leaders didn’t help the industry last year when they made high-profile statements about spending economic recovery money at cities geared to hosting conventions and trade shows. On two occasions, President Obama made remarks about spending money in Las Vegas that local leaders said hurt the local meetings industry.
Dow also recalled one corporate meeting that canceled its meeting at Wynn Las Vegas that was going to cost $600,000 only to rebook it days later in San Francisco for $800,000.
The U.S. Travel Association blasted the anti-travel remarks with a campaign that “meetings mean business.”
Dow said his organization worked hard to get the Travel Promotion Act passed. The legislation enables the United States to collect $14 from foreign travelers once every two years to build a $200 million fund from which the country will develop a marketing program. The legislation is expected to help Las Vegas because a high percentage of international travelers have the city on their itineraries.
Critics of the legislation say foreign countries will retaliate with their own higher fees, but many countries have had them in place for years.
Dow fears the next big problem for the tourism industry will be environmental policies that discourage people from traveling. Dow said he got that message in 2008 when he invited Michael Goo, the climate legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate center, to meet with the U.S. Travel Association policy committee.
“I think the board was a little stunned,” Dow said. “When we asked him to speak his mind about the industry, he said, ‘You’re the biggest enemy I have.’ They (environmentalists) aren’t as concerned about how travel works for the economy than they are about reducing carbon emissions.”
After seeing this online Sun report, Eric Young, senior press secretary for climate and energy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Dow mischaracterized Goo’s statement.
Young said Goo “did not say this because nothing could be further than the truth. The speaking engagement in question was a presentation entitled, 'Why Sustainable Tourism Makes Both Dollars and Sense.’ Our staffer was there to work as a partner with the tourism industry, not to attack it.
“The reporter who wrote the piece should have contacted us to verify this quote,” Young said. “Had he done so, we would have made it very clear that it was never said and rather than being enemies, environmentalists and the tourism industry are natural partners. Tourism is the avenue for Americans to travel and experience some of our greatest natural treasures. Our national park system contains some of America’s most prized vacation destinations.”
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Travel Association said the organization still has concerns about policies to reduce travel, but pledged to work with the environmental group.
“We look forward to working with the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental organizations to find common ground on sustainability issues,” said Cathy Keefe, manager of media relations with the U.S. Travel Association in an e-mail.
“The recent Obama administration directive to federal agencies to reduce employee travel as a means of protecting the environment will harm communities across the country with arbitrary travel cuts,” she said. “The NRDC provided us with a helpful warning several years ago that 'you're either at the table or on the menu.’ We should have heeded their advice then – we're definitely heeding it now.”
CORRECTION: The last six paragraphs of this story were added after the Natural Resources Defense Council challenged Dow's accuracy in quoting Michael Goo. | (November 5, 2010)