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The Coming Effects of Election 2010 on Tourism and Travel

November 3, 2010 at 4:00 PM | by | Comment (1)

For better or worse, last night was a tidal wave election, with consequences that are going to be felt pretty much everywhere. We do our best to keep travel politics to an absolute minimum here, both because it's not as much fun as sex travel or celebrity travel or even green travel, and because it rarely changes based on who's in charge, so who cares. But elections matter, and so here are the essentials of what you need to be on the lookout for in next session's Congress.

The most immediate and noticeable impact will be on the airline industry. Since 2007, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has been chaired by regulation-happy Minnesota Representative Jim Oberstar. He in turn used that position to pretty much constantly screw things up and/or waste folks' time. Last night he lost.

It wasn't just that Oberstar pushed into law a host of new rules and guidelines, many of which were counterproductive and some of which were down right disastrous (predictably down right disastrous). It's also that he made airlines jump through a lot of unnecessary hoops and sit through a lot of pointless hearings, in the sense that everybody was just going through the motions. It was kind of tiring to watch Congress play tough for constituents during the Continental/United merger for instance, given that the merger was all but a lock.

Oberstar's ouster squares with a more general antipathy toward regulation that we'll see in the incoming Republican House, so this is one of those places where the macro dynamics square nicely with what's happening seat-by-seat.

On the other hand, the American tourism industry isn't likely to see many policy changes. Here we're talking about: fining tourists in order to promote tourism. "Promoting tourism" for our Congress has meant funneling money into ads and programs that boost "Las Vegas-style tourism," which is what you'd expect since the Senate Majority Leader hails from Nevada. Sen. Reid was reelected and the Senate didn't flip, so he'll continue as Majority leader.

We're not even sure how much things would have changed with tourism promotion anyway. Congress isn't going to stop supporting it, and for political purposes "tourism" means "what the hotel and restaurant lobby says is tourism." Conclusion: no change.

The more things change, apparently, the more they stay the same.

[Photo: Will Brady / Wiki Commons]

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Repug House impact on tourism

One reason that tourism is down is that it is increasingly difficult and expensive for people to come to the US. They are subject to secondary screening at departure gates that prevents them from bringing many types of gifts. When they are traveling around the US, they are subjected to security theater, a degree of hassle that exceeds what you will find for domestic travel almost anywhere else. If you are not from one of the 35 visa waiver countries (India, China, and another 170 or so), then you have to apply for a visa, which costs the equivalent of $130 and is non-refundable even if they turn you down. The US is in competition for tourist dollars, but we act as if everyone wants to come here, rather than recognizing that there are lots of interesting choices in the world.

Addressing this problem would not be too hard, but it's not going to get addressed. Very few people are interested in travel, evidenced by the fact that only about 10% of Americans have a "real" passport.

The other likely impact of the election is that Congress will continue to ban travel to Cuba, a practice that is truly detrimental to US businesses, since businesses in other countries have taken advantage of the ban to build hotels and run tours to Cuba. As if the travel ban really makes a difference....

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