WASHINGTON, D.C.—As the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 approaches, the U.S. hotel industry is reflecting on the tragic events and their impact on travel.
In a press call titled “Effects of 9/11 on the Travel Industry; A Ten-Year Perspective,” Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, referred to the past 10 years as a “lost decade.”
“No industry was probably more affected by 9/11 than the travel industry,” he said.
Business travel was hit particularly hard. Total volume declined 21% between 2001 and 2010. If a one-day business trip could be replaced with a phone call instead, travelers opted to do so, according to the USTA.
American leisure travel, on the other hand, has been resilient since the attacks on 9/11. Despite long lines and other symptoms of policies implemented by the Transportation Security Administration, the leisure segment has seen a 17% increase in travel since 2001.
International leisure travel to the U.S. is another story. During the “lost decade,” global long-haul travel increased by 40%, but during the same period overseas travel to the United States rose by less than 2%.
A U.S. Travel Association study referenced by Dow revealed a greater percentage of potential international visitors to the U.S. are more intimidated by the customs process than they are by threats of terrorist attacks. International travelers tend to have the perception that it is a hassle to enter the U.S.
For those in Brazil and China, this perception is a reality. The process of obtaining a visa is difficult and lengthy, often lasting months and requiring numerous trips to a consulate in a faraway city, Dow said.
Brazilian and Chinese visitors are important to the recovery of the U.S. travel industry because of the growing middle class in both countries. These families want to vacation in the U.S. and have the money to spend on the trips, but they are often turned off by the difficulty of getting into the country, Dow said. These visa restrictions might account for millions of dollars of lost revenue for the industry.
So where do we go from here? Dow said the challenge the country faces now is to match the effective steps taken to secure the U.S. with three principles that will make the travel process more efficient:
1. Reduce traveler wait times.
- Reduce TSA checkpoint delays to 10 minutes or less.
- Decrease visa wait times to 10 days or less.
- Decrease wait times for international arrivals to 20 minutes or less
2. Improve customer service.
- Engage the private sector to train officers in customer service.
- Make online consular services more user-friendly.
- Embrace visa videoconferencing technology.
3. Eliminate one-size-fits-all.
- Establish a nationwide trusted traveler program.
- Expand the visa waiver program.
- Streamline the visa process for repeat visitors.
- Expand global entry.