America rolls out the welcome mat

THE US Travel Association last month hosted its annual IPW convention, with about 6,000 delegates including suppliers from across all 50 states showcasing their wares to buyers from around the world. Taking place in Anaheim, south of Los Angeles, the event coincided with the highly anticipated opening of the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge precinct at the nearby Disneyland California — but that was just one of the many highlights of the event as America’s tourism industry pulled out all stops to demonstrate that its doors are wide open to visitors from overseas.

The impressive line-up of product was complemented by a truly incredible array of celebrity support, with delegates treated to performances from The Beach Boys, Snoop Dogg, Jason Derulo and an array of Broadway stars flown in just for the event. Packed appointment schedules were complemented by non-stop evening networking events, as attendees flitted from party to party with each destination trying to outdo its rivals.

US Travel Association CEO Roger Dow repeatedly highlighted the importance of travel and tourism to the US economy, also mentioning its potential for easing global tensions. While inbound to the travel to the USA has continued to grow over the past few years, he noted that the increase had been at a slower rate than the global average, meaning America’s share of international long-haul travel had dropped from 13.7% on 2015 to 11.7% last year.

“That small percentage represents a huge number of visitors and impacts tens of thousands of jobs,” he noted, highlighting the ongoing efforts the US Travel Association and Brand USA were making to lobby for the sector in Washington. A key focus is having Brand USA re-authorised for a further five year period once its current mandate expires in September 2020, so that it can continue its mission of promoting America to the world

The news wasn’t all bad, with Dow highlighting the possible expansion of the Visa Waiver Program which facilitates arrivals from a number of “trusted” countries including Australia. Potential new participants include Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia in Europe, as well as Israel alongside several South American countries including Brazil, Costa Rica and Argentina.

The issue of delays at some US airports and border points was a hot topic during IPW – but that may be about to change, at least for some Australian travellers. Officials told travelBulletin that a trial would commence later this year allowing Australian citizens to participate in the Global Entry trusted traveller program, which pre-vets visitors to enable them to pass through express lanes when arriving in the US and also use the TSA Pre-Check accelerated screening process on domestic flights. Targeting frequent travellers, membership of the Global Entry scheme costs US$100 for five years and requires background checks and an in-person interview at an “enrolment centre,” with further details expected to emerge in the coming months.

Overall there was a feeling of optimism from across the industry, particularly from huge destinations such as Orlando where the seemingly insatiable global appetite for theme park experiences continues to drive massive investments in products.

Next year IPW will be hosted in Las Vegas, another city where billions of dollars are being poured into the industry. Attendees at IPW2020 are expected to be able to inspect the progress on some of the gigantic investments currently underway there including a new stadium, expanded hotel & conference offerings and an underground transportation system at the Las Vegas Convention Center being developed by Tesla founder Elon Musk’s Boring Company.

The IPW welcome event was a typical LA affair