WASHINGTON, D.C. — Roger Dow, U.S. Travel Association President and CEO, has for a while now thought about leaving his post at USTA to pursue other interests. Then COVID hit.
“I love this industry too much to leave in the middle of this,” the Dow told Trade Show Executive.
Dow has set a firm date of July 2022 to leave USTA. Until then, his focus will continue to be on getting the federal government to open the nation’s borders to international visitors and getting the business events industry back on its feet. He spoke to TSE’s Frances Ferrante.
Frances Ferrante: The U.S. saw a decline of more than $200 billion last year in spending on business travel (half of which was due to the decline in business events). Tell me about the new “Let’s Meet There” campaign and what you have been doing to bring trade shows back.
Roger Dow: Unlike leisure travel, which is back to 2019 levels already, business travel and meetings and events are struggling. We’ve had a health crisis and we’re managing it, but we also have a mental health crisis and an economic crisis. There are show suppliers hanging on by their fingernails and we’ve got to solve that.
After the success of “Let’s Go There,” which was for the leisure market, it morphed into “Let’s Meet There,” which is backed up by research by Ohio State University research showing that professional meetings can be held very safely. The CDC lumps large gatherings and trade shows together, and trade shows are much safer. You know who’s coming, you have registration, social distancing, safety protocols and other measures. We’ve got this.
Ferrante: The pressure is mounting on the current administration to open the borders to international visitors. How can we finally get this to happen?
Dow: It’s critical that we get international visitors back to U.S. trade shows. If we don’t, we’ll start hearing that the action is no longer in the U.S. and it’s happening in places like Singapore and Abu Dhabi. We need to convince policymakers that it’s safe, starting with people from the UK, EU and Canada. There are many countries where U.S. citizens can travel right now — the UK, Italy, Iceland — we need reciprocity. And we need a blueprint, starting with opening to vaccinated people. But we can’t make that the only criteria, we need to look at a whole plethora of solutions.
Ferrante: What is the impact of the Delta variant on these efforts?
Dow: The Delta variant is all over the news. We need to look at SARS, the swine flu — we learned how to manage them and we will do that with this. We need to follow the science and the data, and sometimes politics gets in the middle and the science goes out the window. We’re seeing in the UK that the variant is going down. What we are pushing the government for is a date when we can open up. That starting Sept. 15, let’s say, we will start opening up to people from those countries that are accepting us and which have similar vaccination rates and case counts.
Ferrante: I’ve noticed that some news outlets had announced your “retirement” and then ran corrections to say you were “stepping down.” Will Roger Dow ever really retire, and if he did, what would that look like?
Dow: I’ll never really retire, just like I “retired” from Marriott 17 years ago! I have tried to retire from this role a few times now. My plans are that I want to do something else in the industry, and I can’t share that now but you’ll be hearing more about it in the spring. I’m not going away.
Reach Roger Dow at (202) 408-8422 or firstname.lastname@example.org