It’s not Iraq, immigration, or healthcare, but travel and tourism is a serious issue to presidential primary voters, according to a new survey, and one that voters would like to see the 2008 presidential candidates address on the campaign trail.

Among the major findings in a survey of likely Republican and Democratic primary voters in South Carolina and Florida, about 50 percent of Democrats and 40 percent of Republicans in both states said they would be more likely to vote for a presidential candidate that addresses travel and tourism issues. However, more than two-thirds of voters in Florida and three-fifths of voters in South Carolina say the candidates have not adequately addressed the issue so far. “I don’t fault the candidates, rather I challenge them to rise to the occasion and address these issues,” said Chuck Merin, president, Travel Business Roundtable, speaking at a press conference Monday to announce the results.

TBR, the Travel Industry Association, and the National Tour Association sponsored the survey, which was conducted by Ayres McHenry and Associates, Atlanta. Florida and South Carolina were selected, explained Whit Ayres, principal at the research firm, because they are critical early primary states and because travel and tourism are central to their economies. Exactly 1,200 likely primary voters were polled from October 24 to October 29, 300 Democrats and 300 Republicans in each state.

Other findings: About 70 percent of respondents across the board said it’s possible to reduce wait times and maintain or improve upon security at airports. Just over half of Republicans and roughly two-thirds of Democrats said the federal government could do more to improve the efficiency of the air travel system to get passengers to and from their destinations quickly and safely. Also, 85 percent said it’s important to develop a new air traffic control system.

Further, close to 90 percent of voters in Florida and 80 percent in South Carolina said that travel and tourism was very important to their states’ economy, and 80 percent across the board said it was important to their life.

“These are some of the most significant survey results I have ever seen (in this industry),” said Roger Dow, president and CEO at TIA. “Never have travel issues been more top of mind.” Due to the global economy, more Americans need to travel, but they are frustrated by a myriad of issues, including airport security, delays, visa hassles, the entry process, and America’s image abroad. This not only affects individuals desire to travel, but also local economies, as travel and tourism is one of the top three economic engines in most states. With regard to meetings, it can hamper attendance, particularly from international destinations, stated Dow.

Survey results have been sent to all the Democratic and Republican candidates running for president. Also, the funding organizations have contacts connected to each of the candidates who will bring these issues to their attention. “The travel industry will be behind a candidate that supports these issues,” said Dow. “Right now, it’s virgin territory because the candidates have not addressed these issues.”

That’s the great challenge for the industry, added Merin—to bring the importance of travel and tourism to the fore among political leaders. “The industry is so large and all-encompassing that it becomes amorphous,” he added. “We hope this survey enables them to do their due diligence and connect the dots.”--Dave Kovaleski