At Phocuswright, laying out long-term threats to the industry

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — A panel examining the intersection of politics, policy and planning warned attendees at the Phocuswright Conference that climate change and staffing shortages in hospitality and restaurants pose threats that could continue to cripple the travel industry regardless of progress made against the pandemic.

Unlike challenges directly linked to previous crises like 9/11 or the Great Recession, “these issues are not one-offs that can be addressed and everything will get back to normal,” said Isabel Hill, acting deputy assistant secretary for national travel and tourism at the Commerce Department. “The public and private sectors must work together to manage processes” to address these issues.

As regards employment, Hill noted that while the “quit rate” is high across all sectors, the number of staff who did not return to restaurant and hospitality jobs is double that in other industries. “The (management/employee) relationship has to be redefined,” she said. “We have a working group within the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, including unions, looking into this.”

Hill, who has served administrations in both parties, observed that “the dynamics are really interesting from standpoint of how we continue to make progress, from the Bush administration to the Obama administration to the Trump administration to the Biden administration. Economic policy is the meeting point for all of them because every administration wants to create jobs and improve the economy. Politics has a tremendous influence on this. Policy matters.”

Who gets the infrastructure bill money?

Stacy Ritter, CEO of Visit Lauderdale, cited the potential benefits of the recently passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, but said she hopes the money goes directly to cities and counties rather than through states, which she feared would be an unnecessary layer that would slow down progress. “We need to be able to say we’re a 21st-century destination with 21st-century roads and infrastructure, not only for tourists, but also for the people who live here.”

She also noted that the political polarization that grips the country creates fallout for tourism businesses. After the state legislature in Florida passed a law prohibiting female athletes from competing in public schools unless they can produce a birth certificate showing they were born female, “we lost two conferences the next day. It’s difficult to separate ourselves from the state, but there are red states with blue areas and blue states with red areas, and if you boycott based only on state policy, you hurt small businesses” in areas where people may agree with you.

Broward and surrounding counties in South Florida are prepared for climate change with durable seawalls and prohibitions against development in coastal areas, Ritter said, noting that if they did nothing, “where we’re sitting right now would be underwater by 2050.”

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