President Obama Visits Cooperstown to Highlight Travel and Tourism that is Growing our Economy and Creating Jobs  


The progress report on the President’s National Travel and Tourism Strategy can be found HERE.

As a part of his Year of Action, the President is using the power of his pen and phone wherever he can on behalf of the American people to create jobs and help hardworking Americans get ahead. The President will travel to Cooperstown, New York to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame – an economic engine in upstate New York. The Hall of Fame draws nearly 300,000 visitors annually, helping to drive more than $160 million into the economy of Otsego County each year. In fact, it is projected that each Hall of Fame visitor generates an estimated $500 in spending into the regional economy.

The President will discuss the Administration’s efforts to support increased travel and tourism in the United States – helping local businesses and growing the economy for everyone. Before heading to Cooperstown, the President will use the power of his pen to sign a Presidential Memorandum to help welcome more international visitors to our country, making it easier for foreign tourists to see more and spend more in the United States. The President will also utilize his phone – his power to convene – and meet with travel and tourism industry CEOs and senior executives at the White House to discuss their vital industry, which supports nearly 8 million jobs across the country and is a major driver of our economy.

President Obama Visits Cooperstown to Highlight Travel and Tourism that is Growing our Economy and Creating Jobs

President Announces New Steps to Welcome More International Visitors to the United States

From our cities to national parks, every year millions of people travel across America. Those visits support nearly 8 million American jobs— jobs that can’t be outsourced at thousands of local and small businesses. As a part of his Year of Action, the President is using the power of his pen and phone wherever he can on behalf of the American people to create jobs and help hardworking Americans get ahead. This week, the President has highlighted the importance of investing in America and today he is taking action to welcome more international visitors to our country – because making it easier for more foreign visitors to travel to and spend money at America’s attractions and national parks helps local businesses and grows the economy for everyone.

That is why the President launched a National Travel and Tourism Strategy in 2012 and set an ambitious goal of attracting and welcoming 100 million international visitors annually by the end of 2021. Two years later, we are on track to meet this goal, in part due to the actions taken by the President’s Administration to expand our ability to attract and welcome visitors, while maintaining the highest security standards. Today, the Administration released a new report Increasing Tourism to Spur Economic Growth: Progress on the President’s National Travel and Tourism Strategy that highlights the many economic benefits to the United States from increased travel and tourism, and the progress that the Administration has made in implementing the President’s strategy.

  • Tourism is America’s most important, and largest, services export: growth in international visitors has created roughly 175,000 American jobs over the past five years, and meeting President Obama’s goal of 100 million visitors in 2021 will support hundreds of thousands of additional jobs.
  • The number of international visitors to the United States has grown from 55 million in 2009 to 70 million in 2013, and each overseas visitor spends on average $4,500 per visit, at American hotels, shops, restaurants, and other domestic businesses.
  • Steps taken by the Administration have supported this impressive growth: The State Department issued 9.2 million visas in 2013, up 42% since 2010. Waiting periods for visas in important markets like Brazil and China have dropped from as high as several months to less than five days on average. The Department of Homeland Security has significantly expanded Trusted Traveler and expedited clearance programs that improve the experience of travelers entering the United States.
  • Through close partnership with airports and industry, we have seen dramatic improvements to the entry process and reduction in wait times for passport control and customs processing at airports. At Dallas Fort Worth and Chicago O’Hare, a combination of measures such as Automated Passport Control kiosks and Global Entry services reduced average entry process wait times by nearly 40% over 12 months, and cut in half the number of visitors waiting longer than 30 minutes.

Building on this significant progress, as part of his Year of Action, the President is announcing new executive actions to continue to encourage and make it easier for international travelers to come to the United States:


New Steps to Improve the Entry Process and Welcome More
International Travelers to the United States

Signing a Presidential Memorandum to Expedite the Entry Process for Travelers, Starting With the 15 Largest Airports: Over the next 120 days, Secretary Pritzker and Secretary Johnson will lead an interagency team, in close partnership with industry, to develop a national goal to improve the entry process and reduce wait times for international travelers to the United States, and action plans at the 15 largest airports for international arrivals, consistent with progress achieved at Dallas Fort Worth and Chicago O’Hare airports where, through a combination of streamlining processes and upgrading technologies, wait times were reduced significantly.

Taking Additional Steps to Improve and Streamline the Entry Process: The Department of Homeland Security is expanding the use of technology to streamline the entry process, such as Automated Passport Control kiosks.

Launching New Efforts to Encourage Travelers to Visit the United States: The Departments of Commerce, State, Agriculture, Homeland Security, Transportation and the Interior will take additional steps to encourage travelers to visit the United States, including launching coordinated strategies with BrandUSA in ten international markets, creating a “one-stop” that supports international bids for major global events and launching a new “virtual visitor services” platform to increase tourism on public lands and waters.

Background on Today’s New Steps to Increase International Visitors to the United States

  • Directing the Secretaries of Commerce and Homeland Security to partner with industry to improve the entry process for international travelers: The President is announcing today a new partnership with industry to dramatically improve service levels for international arrivals to airports, including the wait time for passport control and customs processing. This new effort will be consistent with the progress achieved in partnership with industry at Dallas Fort Worth and Chicago O’Hare airports. The measures the Administration is taking to expedite the arrivals process will enhance our security by focusing officer time on the highest-risk passengers and facilitating the process for the vast majority of legitimate travelers.
    • Partnering with industry to develop national goal and airport specific action plans. The Secretaries of Homeland Security and Commerce will partner with industry to develop a national goal to improve service levels for international arrivals, as well as airport specific action plans that include steps that both private and public actors must take in order for the United States to meet this important national goal. Agencies, working closely with the Tourism Policy Council as well as airlines and local governments, will develop and share metrics to demonstrate service level improvement, taking into account the federal government’s responsibility to protect the safety, public health, and national security of the United States and its visitors.
  • Making progress on additional steps to improve and streamline the traveler experience at ports of entry: DHS continues to streamline and enhance the entry process. Actions include:
    • Expanding the use of Automated Passport Control kiosks to 25 airports by end of 2014. Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosks provide modern touch screen technology which allows passengers to scan their passports and enter their customs declaration information. Provided through public-private partnership with airport authorities, these kiosks expedite air passenger inspection for U.S. and Canadian citizens at participating airports. They reduce officer interaction to approximately 30 seconds from 55 seconds while increasing security by allowing officers to focus on the passenger instead of paperwork. In the past year, 15 airports deployed the technology, with plans for another 10 to join by the end of the year. A number of these airports, including John F. Kennedy International Airport, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, and Orlando International Airport have experienced reductions in average wait times of 30% or more after APC kiosks have been installed.
    • Boosting processing capacity at ports of entry with 2,000 additional CBP officers. Congress recently granted CBP authority to hire 2,000 new CBP officers over the next two years. These new CBP officers are a welcome complement to the Global Entry program and APC kiosks, all of which are important for a faster and more secure entry and arrivals process.
    • Developing a new Loaned Executive Program to borrow private sector expertise to improve line and crowd management. DHS’ Loaned Executive Program will embed senior private sector experts within TSA and CBP, for six months to a year, to improve government customer service and operations at our ports of entry and ensure a positive first impression of the United States for visitors—while simultaneously upholding the DHS public safety mission.
    • Opening 300+ new enrollment centers nationwide in 2014 for Trusted Traveler Programs (including TSA Pre™, CBP’s Global Entry and NEXUS). In 2013, there were almost 1 million additional uses ofGlobal Entry and NEXUS Air kiosks representing a 34% increase over usage in 2012.
    • Creating additional public-private partnerships to defray costs of meeting increased staffing and overtime needs. In the last two budget cycles, the Administration has requested and Congress has granted new legal authorities for DHS to enter into voluntary partnerships with state, local, tribal, and private sector entities. These partnerships allow DHS to provide increased customs and immigration inspections services on a reimbursable basis at U.S. ports of entry upon request. Five agreements were signed in December 2013. In 2014, DHS will seek to enter into five additional partnerships with international gateway airports and seek additional opportunities to expand services and facilities at land and sea ports consistent with the authority granted by Congress.
    • Liberalizing Aviation Markets and Modernizing International Partnerships. The United States has 113 Open Skies agreements with partners across the world which have increased international traffic and resulted in significant benefits to the U.S. economy, aviation industry and workforce, and traveling public. Since the President took office the Administration has established 19 Open Skies agreements and is continuing to pursue new agreements, and improve existing agreements, to provide U.S. air carriers with opportunities to offer new and innovative service to travelers and shippers, as well as to strengthen the Federal government’s ability to help resolve operational issues.
  • Launching new efforts to attract more international travelers to the United States: In 2013, a record 70 million international visitors traveled to the United States, spending an all-time high of $180.7 billion, an increase of more than 9% from 2012. The Administration is undertaking new initiatives to build on the progress to date by:
    • Creating a “one-stop-shop” for federal resources to support U.S. bids for major international events such as large conferences and sporting events: A planned interagency advocacy task force would provide coordinated support that could include high-level advocacy with decision makers, expedited visa appointments for participants, special handling for customs, streamlined process for obtaining necessary federal representations, and other value-added services to support the success of U.S. bids and events.
    • Launching a coordinated federal approach to leverage multiple U.S. government resources in foreign countries to increase tourism demand. An interagency group led by the Departments of Commerce and State are organizing an initiative to target the top 10 international markets, with a pilot launched this year in the United Kingdom.
      • This effort would create an integrated strategic plan at the country level (across agencies and with Brand USA) to increase demand for legitimate travel and tourism to the United States, and to ensure that federal agencies plan for downstream effects to meet demand for services and provide a quality experience.
      • Marketing and promotional activities, communicating U.S. entry policies, increasing participation in Trusted Traveler Programs, anticipating entry volumes, and taking advantage of liberalized air service agreements could be included in the integrated approach.
    • Developing a “virtual visitor services” open data platform to enable state, local, and tribal organizations and private sector partners to build innovative trip planning resources, mobile apps, and customer–friendly digital services to increase tourism on public lands and waters. The platform, under development by the Interior Department and other land-management agencies, will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of federal agency operations, enrich the visitor experience for a diverse set of audiences, and open up opportunities for private sector innovation.
      • The data and web services platform will make key visitor and travel information for public lands available to external travel and tourism providers via open application programming interfaces (APIs). The platform will support local and regional economic development by providing key data on travel and tourism opportunities.
      • Long term plans include integration with multiple data sources to enable partners to build services that provide visitors integrated access to multiple travel options.
    • Partnering with Brand USA, the country’s nonprofit travel promotion corporation, to develop thematic tourism diplomacy campaigns. An expanded year-long global culinary tourism campaign will culminate at the World Expo in Milan, Italy, in May 2015. In preparation, agencies are coordinating a pilot public diplomacy culinary tourism campaign in five target posts in East Asia (China, Taiwan, Australia, Japan and South Korea) to promote U.S. tourism and agricultural exports around embassies’ July 4 festivities, through an integrated recipe book with articles and photos highlighting U.S. tourism destinations, a social media toolkit, promotional collateral and American chef visits.

You Have the Power. Use it Wisely.

As we approach summer, there are many that feel the need to create a summer campaign because that’s what’s expected and what we have been doing since summer vacations were invented.

I suggest we turn the concept of a summer* campaign on its head.   (* spring, fall, winter)

It’s not necessarily a radical approach when you really think about it.

As sophisticated hoteliers, we have data everywhere. As an example, we know:

  • The guest name
  • Where they live
  • When they book
  • How long they stay
  • How much they spend
  • Visits to spa, golf, dining and other activities
  • How often they visit
  • The channel they book
  • Their credit card of choice
  • Etc.

So, at the very least, you have what I would call the basics. And it’s a great place to start.

Multiply this data by all the guests that have stayed with you over the past few years. Hopefully, your records go back several years. This is your active database. You collect guest data from all key touch points. If you are lucky they have opted in to receive information on your property.You are sitting atop a gold mine.

Let’s create a scenario.  Mr. and Mrs. Seymour Profit visit your property 2 times every winter because they enjoy cross country skiing. They are in your database. They live a 3 hour drive away. Fast forward. Your Summer Family Special is emailed to your entire database because it’s your Summer Family Special. It has a great rate and kids eat free. You blast your past guests with this Summer Family Special.

You may give your Summer Family Special a fancy marketing name but it’s what we call Spray and Pray. There is no defined strategy and clearly no targeted focus behind this promotion, other than summer is coming. There is no benefit to Mr.  & Mrs. Seymour Profit, who have no kids and only visit in winter. You may perceive it as a great offer but meaningless without relevance and good timing. In fact, you have probably upset Mr.  & Mrs. Seymour Profit because they feel you really don’t know them and they now have you in their Junk Mail folder. Goodbye Seymour Profit.

This illustrates a one way communication path reminiscent of the 1980’s.  More importantly you have valuable data, but not gaining insight from it. Correct analysis of basic data provides wisdom to create relevant, well targeted promotions that will provide a higher ROI. Highly personalized, relevant and timely. You have rich data that assists in extending the customer life cycle. It enhances engagement. You can begin or expand the conversation with your guests on their needs. This is not new.  I remember successfully working on these types of models several years ago with hospitality and DMO clients. Baby steps, leading to more sophisticated modeling.

What you have is powerful. More powerful than the dollars OTA’s spend on search. You own the customer relationship built on all the data that an OTA does not have. You know the guests likes and dislikes.

Einstein said “We should take care not to make the intellect our god: it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality.”

OTA’s may have intellectual transactional  data but you have powerful insights into the behaviors and characteristics of your guests. You have the ability to learn more about your guest than any OTA.

You have the power, use it wisely.  And Seymour Profit will become a very good friend and frequent visitor.

7 Tips for Travel Agents to Attract, Engage and Retain Customers

So, here I am…..I am a travel agent/tour operator/DMO…..what the heck is going on? I see the world changing around me. I see consumers finding new channels to go direct. I see many competitors getting more sophisticated and I see myself being disintermediated. What do I need to do to stay in the game?

Life used to be less complicated. Business used to be less complicated. There were less information and distribution channels. I knew my customer.

We have witnessed the transfer of power to the consumer. Actually, it was always there but the consumer didn’t know it.

We see the Boomers getting older and younger generations growing up in a digital connected world, becoming more sophisticated and “iTravel” savvy. We are again at a crossroads. Which way do we turn?  Well, let’s look at the facts.

Is disintermediation a reality or is it a fear based myth leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Let’s look at reality and data. In a recent ASTA study (undertaken by my friend Steve Cohen – Insights guru at MMGY), they found that 59 percent of Millennials, 53 percent of Gen Xers, and 58 percent of boomer leisure travelers, who had used travel agents, stated that vacations planned through travel agents were better than those organized without their assistance. Importantly, those same travelers that use an agent actually travel more (4.7 trips on average) than average consumers.

There was better news for Travel Agents. The use of traditional travel agents appears to be growing. According to the survey, 13 percent of U.S. travelers used a traditional travel agent in the past year, which is up from 11 percent a few years ago. Knowledge coupled with convenience are key factors in using agents. Knowledge and convenience are strong building blocks for value creation.

I started my career as a travel agent, and later earning my CTC. I have been a tour operator as well. (I worked as a travel agent with Thos Cook, and ran the Walt Disney Travel Company at Disneyland).  I learned from both companies that “value” was a key driver in the success of any business. Not the lowest price but highest value. What is the value and how is it measured?

Value is a theme that will continue to resonate. Regardless of price, we all want value. The critical task in today’s environment is defining the word “value”. We, as travel producers, can’t tell a consumer what the value is. Consumers tell us what and where the value is. We just need to look, listen and respond. We need to gain insight on the consumer’s changing needs and ensure we are in a position to sense and serve. It reminds me of a great hockey player – playing the puck to where the player will be, not where he is.

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that information on travel and destinations abound. If you ‘Google’ Orlando Travel you will receive over 350 million results in under a half second. To a consumer it is overwhelming, confusing and perplexing.

So how does a Travel Agent leverage the perplexities and confusion :

  1. Become the Convenient Authority

One of the most important elements in any business is how one is perceived. Being recognized as the recognized authority will build business. Ask for recommendations. Share your success stories. You are more convenient that an OTA. You are not anonymous. You have a name and a face. You have been there. You have the answers to complicated questions. You are there if something goes wrong. You are the authority.

  1. Leverage the Experience

Insights gained from a very recent TripAdvisor research paper reported that today’s vacationer is looking for an experience when planning their vacation. This experience is driven by a desire to discover more about the culture of the destination. The experience factor ranks as high as the price factor. Experience divided by price equals value. We need to inspire travel, to intrigue clients, tease and conjure up an alluring destination based on your insight gained from your customers.

  1. Website/Facebook

The moment you publish a website you become, well, you become a publisher. This means your site must never get stale. It must be fresh, intriguing, teasing. The goal is to engage. Is there a clear call to action? Do you have Specials and Last Minute deals. Use your supplier relationships to get great fresh content. They are eager to help you. Your website is your store front. Think of it that way. Maintain your curb appeal.

  1. Knowledge Broker

You must become the font of all travel knowledge. Where to go, when to go, what to pack, how to pack, expected weather, what to see and do, …in fact your are the walking talking human being that doesn’t hide behind a computer screen. Flout your knowledge. Blog your knowledge. Get on your local radio with tips and tricks. Write an article for your local newspaper. Get blogging. Create a Bucket List. Strut your stuff.

  1. Trust

The reason social websites like Trip Advisor have grown leaps and bounds is that they have become part of our circle of trust. It is a community site driven by (mostly) consumers. You need to represent that sense of trust. How do you build trust? Belief in yourself is key, but remember you are communicating to others. You will need to display integrity, intent (how you work and interact with customers), skill sets, and reputation. All of this builds your credibility and ultimately trust.

  1. Specialize

Jack of all Trades – Master of None is figure of speech used in reference to a person who is competent with many skills, but is not necessarily outstanding in any particular one. Don’t just stay alive but thrive by owning a niche. Large Tour Operators have done a great job in creating smaller niche brands. I salute Tauck Tours (founded in 1925!) who have created niche partnerships with filmmaker Ken Burns, as an example, and created experience and cultural based tours with topics that include the Civil War, Jazz, National Parks but all with that special Tauck touch.  Tauck also launched a new river cruise boat in Switzerland but with a focus on a smaller number of passengers. Less is more.

Determine your area of expertise. Cruises – large ship, small ship and river cruise, skiing, Europe, faith based, sports, educational, theme parks, national parks, all inclusive, Caribbean, Mexico, family, rail journeys, safaris, eco tourism, foodie, houseboats, honeymoons, and the list continues. Learn your product better than anybody else. Lean on your Tour Operator partners as well. They have much to give, share and contribute.

  1. Definition of Insanity

The definition of insanity is a well known question and answer. The definition is (if you have been caste off on a desert island) continuing to do the same stuff but hoping for different results. It takes courage to make change. It is a risk taking exercise. It is not for the faint of heart.

My recommendation is to try something different on a small scale. Consider it a test. Your own Petri dish project. Make sure you have your measurement criteria in place. Learn fast. If it fails nix the project and try something new. Keep repeating until you find the successes you are looking for.

So, in closing; look up and down any Main Street USA, there are so many small businesses that do very well. Everyone of them has an online competitor. They succeed in providing a personal service not found online. They aren’t just alive but they thrive by simply leveraging what an online agency cannot provide.