Interview: Outgoing US Travel Association chief Roger Dow

Industry veteran hails bipartisan support and industry resilience during 17-year tenure. Robin Searle reports

The outgoing chief executive of the US Travel Association has credited the industry’s ability to generate bipartisan support for its successes during his tenure.

Speaking as he stepped down at the IPW conference in Orlando last month, Roger Dow identified the formation and reauthorisation of Brand USA and the recent procurement of $250 million in emergency funding for the national marketing body as two of his most significant achievements during his 17 years at the helm.

He also insisted he remained confident for the future of international travel to the US despite ongoing concerns over the impact of the war in Ukraine, soaring inflation and perceptions of safety of America as a safe destination.

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“This is the 53rd IPW but in many ways I see it as the first,” he told Travel Weekly. “This is the IPW that says we are back in business.”

He added: “My outlook is extremely positive. The economists are projecting a recovery by 2024 or 2025 but I truly believe this industry will be back in 2023.

“I’m not a Pollyanna, I am a realist. I am basing my outlook on the experience of 9/11, when people said no one was going to travel, and we then saw years of record visitor numbers; and the 2008 crash, when people said 30% of hotels would never reopen but they did.

“This is a resilient industry, both leisure and business.”

Looking back to the start of his time with the USTA, Dow said his first challenge was to bring together a disparate industry to speak with one voice before channelling that voice to engage with politicians of both parties.

“I will look back with a great feeling that we made something happen and made a real difference,” he said.

“We are the party of red, white and blue, not red and blue, and what is good for the economy and good for jobs is recognised on both sides.

“It has been important to build trust – if we are going to step out (with criticism), we have given them notice.”

Among his other major achievements, Dow cited intensive lobbying which led to the introduction of trusted traveller and pre-clearance programmes, as well as significant inroads in facilitating travel from China pre-pandemic.

He also praised the increasingly influential work of Tori Emerson-Barnes, US Travel executive vice-president for public affairs, noting her upbringing within a family of politicians and crediting it for her extensive understanding of the workings of Washington.

However, he admitted he will not miss the pace of those workings as he steps down.

“Coming from a corporate background, the thing that has always frustrated me is how long it takes to get things done,” he said. “We started talking about Brand USA in 2008 and it got done in 2010; it took two years to get it reauthorised.”

He added: “You have to learn to understand bureaucracies, and one thing I have had to learn over these past 17 or 18 years is patience.”

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