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(VIDEO) Department of Commerce, U.S. Travel Association Host Roundtable on Promoting Safe Business Travel and Igniting Post-pandemic Recovery in the Travel and Tourism Sector


Today, March 8, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves hosted a roundtable with industry and labor leaders to promote safe business travel in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. They addressed shifting demand as pandemic restrictions ease and more people travel for spring and summer vacations. As businesses return to in-person work, the panel also discussed how to organize large group events and partnerships with business travel. 

“The travel and tourism sector has suffered profoundly from the pandemic. Total output plummeted by nearly half in 2020. Total employment dropped by one-third as 3.2 million direct and indirect travel and tourism jobs were lost,” said Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves. “Today our economy is recovering strongly thanks to the leadership of President Biden and the resilience of American businesses. The travel and tourism sector—and related industries—are on their way back but lagging.”

Graves added: “The leisure and hospitality industry gained back 179,000 jobs in February but remains 1.5 million jobs below pre-pandemic levels. With this roundtable discussion, the Commerce Department recommits itself to ensuring that our entire travel and tourism sector fully recovers.”

“A complete recovery of the U.S. economy corresponds to the full and even recovery of America’s travel industry,” said Roger Dow, President and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “Working closely with our partners in the federal government will help accelerate this rebound, particularly as businesses in the public and private sector increasingly return to professional travel.”

Graves reiterated the importance of strong partnerships between the government and private sector. The airline and hospitality industries, along with entertainment venues, have large stakes in the success of our tourism economy. Industry leaders highlighted successful steps to boost tourism and a return to pre-pandemic levels.

Local authorities also emphasized the importance of recovery in this sector, especially when it comes tor leisure and hospitality. Tourism is a key component to rebounding economies in cities like New Orleans and San Diego.

“The last two weeks, we’ve been celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans, which has been an incredible opportunity for our community to come together again and celebrate. We know that in New Orleans, while only 25% of the people who visit us annually are there for professional meetings and events, they account for more than 50% of the spend,” said Walt Leger General Counsel and Incoming President and CEO, New Orleans & Company. “It just underscores to me that people are obviously taking advantage of the opportunity to get out and spend time with their families again. But in order to return people to work, stabilize the economy, and get this industry where we really need to be, we’ve got to get business travel and professional meetings re-established.”

“The unique nature of San Diego is that 70% of businesses are small businesses who rely on visitors to come regardless of purpose, whether it’s international travel, leisure, or business, and not having folks back into the workplace also exacerbated that problem,” said Julie Coker, President & CEO of the San Diego Tourism Authority.

Labor leaders also encouraged a return to in-person work, while ensuring Americans will have the resources they need to make that transition smoothly.

“One thing about bringing staff back and bringing travel back–it’s really important to recognize that children under the age of five do not have access to the vaccine,” said Sara Nelson, International President of the Association of Flight Attendants. “We need to act on the President’s plan on childcare. We need to have enough childcare for people to actually come back into the offices.”

Deputy Secretary Graves also shared that later this year, the Biden Administration will announce a National Travel and Tourism strategy to focus on adding new workstreams to support diverse tourism experiences and assist in recovery and resiliency.

To watch today’s roundtable in its entirety, please click here.