10 things we learnt at WTTC’s North America Leaders Forum 2019

This week, over 150 industry leaders gathered in downtown Manhattan for the first World Travel & Tourism Council North America Leaders Forum, hosted by NYC & Company and supported by strategic partners American Express and Hilton. The conversations covered topics as diverse as disease outbreaks, biometrics and tourism promotion; and diversity itself was a key theme. Here are ten things we took away from the discussions.

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Image: Fred Dixon, CEO, NYC & Company.

1. Tourism saves the average New York household $2,000 a year in taxes according to Fred Dixon, CEO, NYC & Company. Each year the city receives 65 million visitors, generating USD $12.1 billion in taxes and creating 400,000 jobs making New York one of the most successful tourism cities in the world. Part of this success lies in the deliberate strategy of engaging communities across the five boroughs in tourism, training local businesses to develop the right product to attract and service the diverse needs of visitors to the city.

2. The United States really is open for tourism and international visitor numbers from around the world continue to grow. Politics fuels negative media coverage of the USA as a destination, but in reality visitors are more concerned about safety and security while the strength of the dollar has also proved a challenge over recent years. That said, the US is losing out on potential market share, as other countries are growing much faster. And the implementation of some recent decisions has put pressure on the industry — when US travel to Cuba was banned, over 600 cruise ships had to be rerouted overnight.

3. It only takes 36 hours for a disease to spread from a small rural village anywhere in the world to a global city so the tourism sector needs to be well prepared for managing a health pandemic. The impact of the 2014 Ebola outbreak reached far beyond the small number of countries in West Africa where it happened, with tourism across Africa and as far away as South Africa badly affected. “Not all travellers have a great sense of geography” suggested Ninan Chacko, CEO, Travel Leaders Group, who emphasised the need for rapid and accurate communications around impacted areas and the reach of a crisis, be it a health pandemic, hurricane or volcanic eruption. The Caribbean has launched a Resilience Centre to bring together stakeholders to collaborate on crisis planning, management and response.

4. Only 20% of consumers trust the companies they do business with to maintain the privacy of their data so building and maintaining trust will be key as the travel industry moves towards a Seamless Traveller Journey based on biometrics. CEO & Chairman of CLEAR, Caryn Seidman-Becker, highlighted how this can be done: companies need to tell their consumers they will never sell or share their data, ensure all experiences are opt-in, and have employees bring technology to life. Once trust is gained the opportunities are endless, and the more experiences you can deliver, the more value there is to the customer. So an end-to-end approach which includes not just airports and airlines, but cruise, rail, hotel and car rental as well is good for security and good for the customer experience.

5. Innovating air traffic control is the under-reported and under-funded topic in the infrastructure debate. Congestion in the air is as important as congestion on the ground. And while billions of dollars are being invested in runway, terminal and ground access to airports, in air traffic control, technology is old and implementation takes too long. Tom Klein, Senior Managing Director of Certares, was optimistic though, highlighting that even small developments in ATC can bring benefits for safety, passengers, the environment and communities.

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Image: Bo Young Lee, Chief Diversity Officer, Uber

6. Bias is hard-wired in humans and if you want to be truly diverse and inclusive, you have to be actively engaged in not being biased. As a global industry, serving clients and communities of all types, Travel & Tourism needs to be active in its approach to diversity and inclusion. The story of Uber, as told be Chief Diversity Officer Bo Young Lee, is testament to this where a whole company culture had to evolve in order to harness the benefits of a diverse workforce, stem a global campaign against the company, and provide a service fit for purpose for both customers, employees and their driver partners.

7. Communities are at the heart of sustainable tourism growth and companies and destinations, from Jamaica to Yucatan to New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles are engaging with communities in a meaningful way. The cruise sector is working with communities to ensure that cruise passengers add value to the places they visit, and the infrastructure which comes with cruise is of benefit to all. When tourism is working, local people can be the strongest advocates for their tourism sector as well as authentic and inspirational story tellers.

8. CSR is out, creating shared value is in. Embedding environmental and social values within a company adds to the bottom line. CSR is no longer an ‘add on’ to normal business activity but critical to employee recruitment and retention, customer experience, and increasingly to ensure a license to operate. It also goes beyond compliance with environmental and governance regulations, and increasingly companies are building their brand around sustainability approach.

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Image: Panel session ‘From doing CSR to being CSR’ at WTTC’s North America Leaders Forum

9. Belle Fourche, South Dakota is the geographic centre of the USA, and the launch destination of Brand USA’s new storytelling campaign. The mobile content creation lab spotlights first-person perspectives of American culture via locals, influencers and travellers alike.

10. Over 3,750 data points have been gathered by WTTC and JLL in a new report which looks at cities’ future readiness for tourism growth. Find out where your city ranks and discover more about best practices in urban tourism planning here.

This post was written by Olivia Ruggles-Brise, SVP Corporate Strategy & Marketing, World Travel & Tourism Council.

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