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Fighting travel’s corner

Getting travel the support it deserves during recovery

Kelly Kolb

Vice President, Government and Industry Affairs, Travelport

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World leaders are faced with constant choices as COVID-19 progresses. How much financial support can we afford to give? Which industries should be heard first? Who deserves the most aid? As they allocate the limited support packages available, governments and policymakers are under huge pressure to make the best decisions.

And with so many sectors clamoring for support, we need to get travel the backing it deserves.

Travel and Tourism contribute massively to the global economy. These industries generated US$8.9 trillion in 2019, which accounted for 10% of global GDP and 1 in 10 jobs. There’s too much at stake to allow our leaders to forget that.  We must have representation present where decisions are being made, be it about fiscal aid, travel restrictions, quarantines, or other areas that impact travel businesses.

But ours is a complex and segmented industry. There are hundreds of different lobby groups and associations representing businesses across our ecosystem — with each asking policymakers to consider their specific needs. Many assume the voice that shouts loudest gets heard, but that’s rarely the case.

The past year has shown that the more powerful approach is to come together to present a unified front. Travelport has taken a leading role in shaping our path to recovery and ensuring nobody gets left behind. We’re joining forces with others in the industry to support job growth, the global economy and a safe return to travel. Here’s how we’re effectively advocating across the board:

Securing industry support and job safety

My role at Travelport is to inform policymakers on our industry’s needs, strengths, and capabilities, as well as pushing for further beneficial legislative and regulatory actions. In doing so I work closely with airlines, hotels, agencies, travel technology companies, travel management companies (TMCs), and many other industry players to develop proposals for better, more effective resolutions to government leaders.

One of the most critical functions Travelport has undertaken since the pandemic began is to represent a collaborative voice, so government leaders can make better decisions in the interest of all industry stakeholders. In this way, we’re using our seat at the table to champion the value that ticket agents, technology companies and everyone in our industry contributes to economies around the world. Together, we must demand the support we need to safely and effectively restore travel.

“We’re using our seat at the table to champion the value that ticket agents, technology companies and everyone in our industry contributes to economies around the world.”

Here’s some of the initiatives we’ve prioritized:

1. Looking out for US travel agents and travel technology companies

The technology companies that facilitate travel commerce and the connections between suppliers, agents, and travelers are a vital part our ecosystem. Travelport is an active member of the Travel Technology Association (TTA) — which represents the sector that powers the industry, from startups to legacy technologies and everything in between.

Last May, I shared a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how we ensured the CARES Act would also cover travel agents, ticket agents, and travel technology companies severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a proud moment when US lawmakers agreed with our proposal and granted these businesses eligibility to participate in the various programs that protected many jobs and offered financial relief.

Simon Gros and I reflected on Travelport’s role in lobbying for these intermediaries. After months of discussions within the Treasury Department, our efforts came to fruition when Ovation Travel Group became the first agency to secure a loan under the lending program established by the CARES Act. But this is just one example.

2. Strengthening job security for the US hospitality and travel sector

Alongside our allies in the TTA, Travelport joined forces with the U.S. Travel Association (and numerous other travel and tourism organizations) in October, to urge Congress to support the Hospitality and Commerce Job Recovery Act.

This legislation provides various tax incentives to help return millions of people to their jobs, including enhancements to the Employee Retention Tax Credit, and a modest tax credit for many Americans who choose to travel again.

3. Driving a centralized plan for recovery in Europe

Outside the US, Travelport is a member of the European Tourism Manifesto, an alliance of more than 60 European public and private organizations. It actively calls on EU policy makers to support the travel sector with a centralized approach — rather than each country making and adapting its own rules, restrictions, and plans.

We’re urging European governments to agree on a harmonized approach to travel restrictions within the region. This makes it simpler for everyone, especially travelers, to understand — which will help to restore confidence and get them moving again.

We’re also helping to ensure that travel gets the government support it needs to continue driving economic growth and job creation in Europe. Specifically, we’re advocating that travel and tourism is a part of national recovery and resilience plans. We’re also well as raising awareness on how new online payment rules impact travel recovery.

Business meeting between two people

Global recovery needs us all

Earlier I said that it’s better for the travel industry to act together and seek support collectively. Rather than risk one voice being drowned out, we can be so much stronger, and more persuasive by presenting a unified front. Travelport has been using its seat at the table to speak up and support the industry associations that serve as a collective voice for the many, making sure nobody gets left behind.

By working together as an industry, we can deliver a more holistic approach that eliminates the need for varying travel restrictions at country level. We can also advocate for standards that allow for a safe, unambiguous return to travel.

For example, last year Travelport worked with the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), to develop Global Aviation Protocols. These 18 measures helped to formalize what we needed to deliver a safe, secure and seamless return to flying, with contributions from industry organizations around the world. Destinations and companies that comply with these protocols can use a WTTC ‘Safe Travels’ stamp — which has now been earned by more than 100 destinations worldwide — helping to further restore consumer confidence.

All of this is helping to reinforce the value of travel and tourism, and to gain further attention and support from governments and decision-makers around the world.

What next?

This is just a snapshot of some ways we’ve been supporting recovery so far. Travelport is committed to staying at the forefront of this process — and recently our CEO Greg Webb was appointed to the United States Travel and Tourism Advisory Board. This will further enable us to share our knowledge and insights, and ensure the new travel experience is safe, secure and exciting. It will also allow us to shape current and emerging issues, and to advocate for our partners in proposing solutions to industry-related problems.

This pandemic has shown itself to be unpredictable, and it will remain so. But something we can control is working more closely together to promote the value and viability of our industry. We must work together to implement unified safety measures, and to use quality research to prove they do in fact reduce risk. We must also share insights on how measures like COVID-19 testing at airports impacts traveler confidence.

Collaboration of this nature will help to discourage travel restrictions and will strengthen our case in pitching for more government relief. This is the most effective way that we can restore trust and consumer confidence, because continued testing and a widescale vaccine rollout will likely become a standard in the “new normal” for travel. And it is up to us, as an industry, to help travelers adjust and become accustomed to the necessary changes that will get people moving again.

We’re joining forces with others in the industry to support job growth, the global economy and a safe return to travel.
Kelly Kolb, Vice President, Government & Industry Affairs, Travelport
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