The Travel Industry Association launched its “Change the Debate” campaign in South Carolina, where travel industry leaders were on the ground at the Republican debate on January 9, looking to inject travel-related issues into the Fox-televised forum.
Ultimately, travel questions were not asked that night, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. TIA representatives met twice with debate moderator and Fox News anchor Brit Hume to discuss the importance of travel to the U.S. economy and why the candidates should be asked how they would improve the travel system, says Cathy Keefe, TIA spokeswoman. Also, TIA-sponsored billboards are up in Myrtle Beach and Columbia conveying the same message.
TIA targeted South Carolina because it is one of two early primary states, along with Florida, that relies heavily on travel and tourism as an economic driver. (The South Carolina primary was January 19; Florida is January 29). For that reason, TIA surveyed likely primary voters to get their thoughts on travel issues. The results revealed that more than 60 percent do not believe the 2008 presidential candidates have addressed a travel system that is increasingly viewed as flawed and frustrating.
"Outdated tracking systems, delays and congestion, combined with a 17 percent decline in overseas visitation to the United States since 9/11 have taken their toll on the American traveler, the economy, and the U.S. image abroad," said Roger Dow, president and CEO, TIA, in a news release. "We're taking our campaign on the road to make sure the candidates know that improving the travel process is both good policy and good politics."
As part of the Change the Debate campaign, TIA officials will be meeting with representatives from convention and visitors bureaus across the country. “We'll be distributing public policy ‘how-to’ kits to more than 500 CVBs,” says Keefe. “The kits will contain everything they need to know to continue the forward movement of this campaign.” TIA is also convening regional meetings with CVB leaders on a regular basis to update them on what TIA is doing and how they can get involved. About a dozen area CVB representatives attended the first regional meeting, held in Seattle this month.