LAS VEGAS -- 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.
The travel industry has suffered through 9/11, rising fuel costs 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, says Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.
But no concern could be greater than environmental policy that discourages people from traveling to cut down on carbon dioxide emissions.
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."
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.
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)