Word of the Day: Competitiveness

In advance of the kickoff of the Global Travel & Tourism Summit later this evening, a group of travel industry and trade show experts, in the world’s capital of trade shows, Las Vegas, met to discuss the challenges and lost opportunities brought on by harsh and outdated visa policies.

Here’s the big-picture problem:  According to the U.S. Travel Association, between 2000 and 2010, the global travel market grew by more than 60 million travelers annually.  Over those 10 years, the United States’ share of the market grew by just 1 percent, which is essentially a “lost decade” for the U.S. travel industry and the U.S. economy.  Today, U.S. market share of overseas visitors is 12.4 percent, down from 17 percent in 2000.  It’s all about lack of competitiveness for the U.S. 

And trade show experts today pointed that the visa process is a major reason for that problem.  U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow cited the loss of the 2012 Olympics bid and the 2007 PanAm Games as examples of where visa policy has blocked economic opportunity.

Similarly, trade shows provide a boon to the economy.  The average spending by international buyer and exhibition attendees is $13,600 – and counting just the international exhibitors, that spending nearly triples to $36,100.  Oxford Economics says that without visa barriers, U.S. business sales would increase $2.4 billion, supporting 43,000 U.S. jobs.

If the system stays the same, the results stay the same.  And in turn, the rest of the world passes the U.S.

In fact, Mexico President Felipe Calderon (who will speak at the Summit on Thursday) has pledged to take Mexico from the world’s tenth largest tourist destination to fifth by 2018.  Likewise China has entered the ring as a serious competitor to start capturing a larger share of the global travel market – making travel and tourism one if its priorities for economic growth.

So while China and Mexico are vying to become top travel destinations, the U.S. is losing out.

Roundtable participants from the Specialty Equipment Market Association, the National Association of Broadcasters, the International Association of Exhibitions and Events and the ConExpo-CONAGG, who run the largest trade shows in Vegas, say this issue has to be addressed critically. What’s most frustrating to them is that show organizers don’t even have the ability to help their delegates secure visas, essentially helping the U.S. government with the risk assessment process.

So, in the end, it’s not just a few delegates and their spending that is lost, but also a huge potential loss in the sale of the American products being presented at those shows.

Essentially you get the benefits of two exports for the price of one when you’re talking about trade shows, and that should be something worth competing for.

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