Governors Focus on the Recovery of Travel and Tourism at the NGA Summer Meeting

A look at the discussion Governors had with travel and tourism industry leaders regarding the industry’s impact on economic activity and job creation.

At the NGA Summer Meeting, Governors met with key tourism and travel industry leaders to discuss how the industry continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The discussion also focused on the significant economic impact the industry has on states, businesses and individual Americans.

NGA Chairman and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson began the plenary session, noting how the vital travel and tourism industry “promotes billions of dollars in economic activity and tens of thousands of job in our economies. Beyond the economic impact, though, getting out there and exploring the 55 states and territories provides all kinds of benefits. It enhances mental well-being, sparks curiosity and generates goodwill.”

Tori Emerson Barnes, Executive Vice President, Public Affairs and Policy, at the U.S. Travel Association, then moderated a discussion with panelists:

  • Amir Eylon, President and CEO, Partner, Longwoods International;
  • Al Hutchinson, President and CEO, Visit Baltimore;
  • Keiko Matsudo Orrall, Executive Director, Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism; and  
  • Chris Thompson, President and CEO, Brand USA.

The panelists provided insight into how the industry continues to recover after taking a significant downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In terms of international travel numbers, for example, the panelists explained that current projections show the United States will likely not return to the 2019 number of international visitors until 2025. While travel has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, the panelists expressed optimism about the resiliency of the industry and many positive trends, including increased consumer demand to travel and the return and creation of jobs. The panelists also detailed some of the trends they are seeing related to Americans’ travel preferences and concerns, with the majority of travelers’ COVID safety concerns being eclipsed by concerns related to inflation, high gas prices and air travel complications.

Governors addressed a number of the challenges and opportunities they are seeing in their states and territories.

Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi shared the territory’s tourism industry “had a record year last year … believe it or not, in the middle of the pandemic, and this year we’re doing even better.” The Governor shared how Puerto Rico decided to target American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to hotels. Puerto Rico has a Destination Marketing Organization (DMO), and Governor Pierluisi “targeted ARPA funding to double the funding of our DMO. In Puerto Rico, this DMO called Discover Puerto Rico was created several years ago … it promotes Puerto Rico on a consistent basis … and I say to my fellow Governors think about [utilizing a DMO] because it works.”

Maine Governor Janet Mills shared examples of successful ways Maine helped tourism industry staff members navigate health and safety standards implemented during the pandemic to help both employees and tourists. “One thing we did,” Governor Mills stated, “was to use our community colleges to set up a sort of three-week training program for safety health and safety purposes so people working in the hospitality industry … were trained in safety measures and sanitation.” The Governor also shared that while Maine has not yet returned to the tourism numbers seen in 2019, “the tourist spending is much higher than it ever was before.” The Governor also raised a concern Maine and other states are facing with workforce housing shortages which are proving “a major impediment to suppling the workforce for the industry.”

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu echoed concerns about workforce housing challenges, sharing that young people want to work but “cannot afford it. There’s literally no place for them to live. They don’t want to drive an hour to work at a hotel.” Governor Sununu also addressed how the rise of the Vacation Rentals by Owner (Vrbo) industry has created a “major economic change” in the industry that he believes needs to be addressed.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker also addressed concerns about how housing shortages are impacting the tourism industry in Massachusetts, sharing that “we’ve started to actually build housing in various places and support the construction of housing on the Cape specifically for people who are going to be working there because there’s no place for them to go.”

Governor Doug Burgum of North Dakota addressed some of the unique considerations faced by the 13 states that share a border with Canada, including challenges that stem from reduced staffing at border crossings, making it harder for Canadians to visit the United States for travel or other economic engagement. Governor Burgum also noted “one of the things that I see in our state is the tourism business hasn’t adopted enough technology,” and “there are technology solutions which would actually reduce the demand for the amount of labor we need … and we’re going to be making a push in North Dakota to drive equal automation tax credits for the service industry.”

Watch the full session: