After years working for the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, Helen Marano began a new phase of her career in January as government and industry affairs director for the World Travel and Tourism Council, based in London. She is working to get the word out to governments and society about the economic and social benefits of travel and tourism as well as the need for collaboration between industry and government, which was a big part of her previous role in Washington.
Corporate Meetings & Incentives: In the U.S., perception is still a barrier to meetings and travel. Is that an issue you see in other parts of the world?
Helen Marano: Yes, business travel of all forms has been a key area that companies mark for cost reductions during economically stressful times. There still tends to be the option of using innovative meeting technologies to substitute for the face-to-face. Consideration of travel’s environmental impact also plays into this, particularly in the U.S. and Europe. As a counterpoint, the emerging Asian markets are more disposed toward in-person interaction for building relationships with new customers and keeping current ones. These are the economies that are displaying compound rates of travel and tourism growth in the global arena and that culturally savor the importance of trust built by interpersonal business transactions.
WTTC’s 2011 business travel study reports that global business travelers estimate that 50 percent of prospective customers are converted to new customers with an in-person meeting compared with 31 percent without such a meeting. Four out of five global executives (nine out of 10 in China) believe that face-to-face business meetings are essential to their organization’s success.
CMI: The U.S. Travel Promotion Act has been hailed as an important step toward attracting more international visitors to the U.S. Do you see examples around the world of success with a public-private partnership approach?
Marano: Public-private partnerships are essential to ensuring the sustained growth of the industry and the country’s GDP and job creation. This model is more common than many Americans may think. Certainly the footwork done in developing this legislation, primarily by the U.S. Travel Association, and with the research and partnership of the Commerce Department, elaborated on such examples as Australia at the time, Canada, and India, among others.
At the end of the day, the meetings business, including exhibitions and trade shows, represents nearly one-third of the revenues generated by the travel and tourism industry globally. The more the U.S. is in the forefront of promotional activities, met by improvements in infrastructure, visa processing, and security measures, among other aspects, the more attractive it will be for meetings and incentive business internationally.
CMI: As the U.S. presidential race winds up at press time, what initiatives would you like to see the new administration (Democratic or Republican) put forward to strengthen the travel industry?
Marano: WTTC encourages the president of the U.S., whoever it is, to join the 38 world leaders who are part of the WTTC/UNWTO [United Nations World Tourism Organization] Global Leaders for Tourism Campaign. The campaign’s goal is to have governments formally recognize travel and tourism as a major driver of economic growth and development, and to elevate it as a priority in the global political and economic policy agenda. The executive order issued by President Obama [establishing visa and foreign visitor processing goals and the Task Force on Travel and Competitiveness] was a huge step toward embracing this principle. Ensuring that government agencies do not curtail their critical meeting attendance should be a priority for keeping civil servants and political appointees in touch with the marketplace environment and expertise.
CMI: Can you discuss a recent WTTC initiative that’s supporting growth of our industry?
Marano: One of WTTC’s strategic priorities is “Freedom to Travel,” which underscores the right of people to travel safely and efficiently across international borders. WTTC’s focus within this priority is on visa facilitation. WTTC and the UNWTO undertook a joint study in 2012 to quantify the benefits of visa facilitation initiatives for the G20 countries. The research showed that visa process improvements could stimulate up to 112 million additional international tourists by 2015, representing $206 billion in additional tourism receipts and creating 5 million jobs.
These findings formed the basis of discussions at the May 2012 Tourism Ministers Meeting (T20) in Mérida, Mexico, and were then fed directly through to the G20 leaders. Thanks to this concerted, industrywide effort, and the support of Mexican President Felipe Calderón, the economic importance of the travel and tourism industry and the opportunities for visa facilitation were included in the G20 Leaders’ Declaration for the first time.