Interview: US Travel chief executive Geoff Freeman

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A benchmarking competitiveness study which ranked the US 17th out of 18 destinations has served as a wake-up call for the country’s government, according to the head of the US Travel Association (USTA).

The report by Euromonitor International published earlier this year ranked the US second last based on assessments of its national leadership, brand and product, identity, security and facilitation, and travel and connectivity.

USTA chief executive Geoff Freeman said the industry still suffers from a “lack of respect” from decision-makers, many of whom feel travel “happens by default rather than design”.


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But he said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the findings of the study and a report due later this year from the newly formed Commission on Seamless and Secure Travel could help drive action on long-standing issues affecting inbound travel to the US including visa wait times and the poor border and transit experience.

Speaking at the IPW travel trade conference in Los Angeles last week, Freeman called on the government to embrace technology to streamline the entry system and avoid the requirement for transit passengers to claim and recheck luggage.

He said: “Other countries around the world realise it is a competitive environment to attract travellers and are putting in place steps to attract travellers away from the United States.

“They’re looking at options to allow people to keep their shoes on or liquids in their bags when they go through screening. Those types of steps are going to make those countries more competitive and will steal travellers from the US.”

The Commission on Seamless and Secure Travel was set up to propose policy recommendations to the federal government. It is chaired by former acting secretary of the department of homeland security Kevin McAleenan and comprises former government officials and private sector experts including former Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye.

Freeman said: “The commission will put forward concrete ideas for the government to consider but progress will be incremental. It’s frustrating to be talking about the same issues but the [benchmarking] was a wake-up call. When you see us compared to what other countries are doing, it’s compelling.”

Freeman conceded the forthcoming US election would “suck the oxygen out of the room”, but insisted there were still opportunities to make the industry’s case with government and counter a “lack of respect for travel”.

He said: “I’m cautiously optimistic that the administration and others in government are waking up and heeding our call to address the issues we can control.

“Our government adopting the policies and reform it needs to adopt will ensure we don’t just get back to where we were before the pandemic but that we skyrocket beyond that.”

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