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US Travel Association head shares global snapshot of tourism

As Southern Nevada gears up for what potentially could be a record year for visitation and convention attendance in 2020, a national travel leader offered a mix bag of headwinds and tailwinds on the national and international fronts.

Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, updated the state’s tourism industry at last week’s Governor’s Global Tourism Summit at the Plaza in downtown Las Vegas. The association is a national nonprofit organization representing all components of the travel industry.

The summit is an annual gathering of tourism leaders from across the state that meet for three days in the fall to discuss strategies for delivering more visitors to the Silver State. While the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority promotes Southern Nevada, including Boulder City, Mesquite and Laughlin, the Nevada Commission on Tourism bears that responsibility for the rest of the state, with a heavy focus on rural destinations.

The 300 attendees of the summit got a firsthand look at tourism and visitation attractions across the valley, including Allegiant Stadium, convention facilities at Wynn Las Vegas, The Linq Promenade and the Las Vegas Convention Center. They may even have had to brush off the construction dust from Circa across the street from their Plaza digs.

The summit’s closing panel, featuring representatives of the Raiders, the Golden Knights, the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and UFC, was a discussion of how major-league sports is changing the tourism profile of Southern Nevada.

But it was Dow who delivered the 30,000-foot perspective on drawing tourists to Nevada attractions and international visitors to the United States.

One of the key takeaways is that while travel and tourism is expanding across the United States, it’s still losing market share to foreign countries.

The industry has experienced 120 consecutive months of growth, yet market share has slowly dropped.

The growth pattern is “unheard of in any industry,” Dow said.

In 2015, the U.S. enjoyed a 13.7 percent market share of worldwide tourism. By 2018, that share had dwindled to 11.7 percent. Dow said that 2 percentage-point drop represents 14 million visitors, $59 billion in spending and 120,000 jobs in the United States.

Part of the reason for the drop is that the United States has failed to keep up with other countries in their marketing campaigns — and there’s an important deadline for congressional action in the months ahead that needs to be addressed, he said.

Brand USA, a nonprofit, private partnership dedicated to increasing inbound international travel to the United States, was created through Congress’ Travel Promotion Act.

Dow said Brand USA, a nationwide marketing initiative first implemented in 2011, requires reauthorization by Congress every five years and unless that occurs by Oct. 1, it will expire. The initiative has been popular and successful because it’s not paid for with taxpayer dollars, but with fees assessed to inbound international travelers matched with money from the travel industry.

While Dow applauded efforts of Nevada’s congressional delegation to support Brand USA, he said, “Nothing is moving in D.C. Nothing.” Dow said he’s hopeful that a bill would be introduced by December.

He also said the ability of foreign travelers to secure visas for travel to the Unites States has eased in the past few years and the number of visa-waiver countries — those in which travelers are not required to have visas, thanks to international agreements — has grown to 38, with Poland recently added to the list and Brazil and Israel on deck for possible inclusion.

Dow also touted the benefits of the U.S. Travel Association-sponsored convention in Las Vegas from May 30 through June 3.

IPW, as it is known, is like speed dating between travel sales representatives and various destinations and attractions. U.S. travel exhibitors connect with travel buyers and media from more than 70 countries to promote their product, negotiate future business and build relationships.

Dow said in past IPWs, $5.5 billion in sales have been driven during the three-day event featuring 110,000 20-minute meetings.

The good thing about hosting IPW is that the host city gets to show off its attractions and by June, there should be plenty more to see here. That sets up Las Vegas for greater visitation in the years beyond 2020.

Dow also shared a quote from one of Nevada’s favorite sons, Mark Twain, about how international travel is a form of “stealth public diplomacy.”

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts,” the famed writer once said.

We can certainly use a little of that now.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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