When Donald Trump is sworn in as president of the United States this month, it will be the end of a long, frequently divisive election process. But it will also represent a beginning — of a presidential administration with new ideas, new priorities, and new policies. Convene recently talked to two industry professionals, including Jonathan Grella, executive vice president of public affairs for the U.S. Travel Association, about what that could mean for the meetings and travel industry.
Is it too early to ask how the Trump administration might affect our industry?
The incoming president is unique amongst presidents-elect in that he has hospitality holdings. We believe that bodes well for the industry.
In what way?
A unique and natural understanding of the importance of face-to-face meetings and the connections that are made in person, and how special and critical those are to conducting business. We wouldn’t have to explain to a businessman, from the very beginning, why looking somebody in the eye, shaking their hand, and sitting down with them is beneﬁcial to building a meaningful bond, both personal and professional. I don’t think that would be wishful thinking. You don’t get as far as he has in business, and particularly the hospitality business, without that fundamental understanding. We think it’s appropriate to put a healthy amount of faith into that mindset.
How about President Trump’s policies specifically related to travel? Is U.S. Travel concerned about some of the more strident positions that he’s taken in terms of immigration or restricting entry for certain groups of people?
On one hand, the president-elect has stressed infrastructure — and particularly airport infrastructure — in a way that no other presidential candidate has done before. That’s encouraging. At different points in time, the president-elect has advocated for expansion of the Visa Waiver Program, into particularly Poland. We’re encouraged by that part as well. So we’ll see. And obviously, it’s important to recognize the differences between immigration policy and travel policy.
Is there anything else about the new administration that you think bodes well—or not—for meetings and travel?
We think that the combination of his prioritization of airport infrastructure and his hospitality holdings and heritage position us favorably going in. We’ve learned to cultivate relationships with leaders of all political stripes, but never before have we had the opportunity to work with a president who understands the business world so well, and particularly the travel industry. We’re looking forward to the opportunities for partnership and collaboration, and believe that there is a lot of progress that can be made across a number of fronts. Certainly, ﬁrst and foremost, on the airport-infrastructure front, a signature issue of ours that was mentioned by the incoming president on Election Night is a great place to start. We’re looking forward to that opportunity.
We could not have imagined the partnership we’ve had with the current administration on day one, where there wasn’t that enhanced understanding from the get-go. That came with time. That came with education and the mutual building of a rapport. We believe we’re starting from a more advanced place, and are hopeful that things continue to develop from there, as they did with the current administration, whom we have the highest regard for, in terms of his learned emphasis on travel and tourism and how important that was — from inadvertently and unwittingly taking shots at folks traveling to Vegas or to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers’ dime, and how far we came to a national travel and tourism strategy, and so many other advancements that have been made during the last eight years.
A Dissenting Opinion: Meetings Under Trump’s Administration
While the U.S. Travel Association is encouraged by the prospect of working with the Trump administration, Philadelphia-based hospitality attorney Joshua L. Grimes isn’t so optimistic. While emphasizing “this is not legal advice,” Grimes shared several areas where he is concerned:
The new administration brings real uncertainty to global meetings, both those held outside the United States and those taking place within its borders with international attendees. President-Elect Trump pledged to renegotiate important trade deals and revisit America’s relations with its allies. This position brings uncertainty to international meetings. There could be significant swings in currency valuations, making it possible that a meeting scheduled well in advance could become significantly more expensive for both organizers and attendees. There may also be heavy tariffs levied on goods brought into the United States for meetings. Planners concerned about these possibilities should consider meeting only in the most stable countries from the standpoint of trade relations with the United States, and avoid the nations that were candidate Trump’s targets.
Price Increases/Labor Shortages
Trump promised to remove undocumented immigrants from the country. If this plan is implemented in a significant way, there may be labor shortages and increases in the price for various services. This is particularly true with respect to restaurant workers, a material number of whom are immigrants. If they are removed from the workforce, labor costs will rise.
Cancellations for Controversial Laws
In recent years, states and local governments enacted laws that have the effect of discriminating against parts of society, such as gays, transgender persons, and minority groups. Some areas also flew the Confederate flag and resisted civil-rights reforms. Meeting groups retaliated by canceling their events and moving them elsewhere. The change in leadership may lead to additional state laws that could be interpreted as restricting civil rights and liberties. These new laws cannot be predicted years in advance, when many groups book their meetings and conventions. Therefore, meeting groups sensitive to civil-rights issues and other legal changes their attendees may consider objectionable need to negotiate cancellation clauses into their contracts allowing them to pull out for these potential issues.
Arbitration to Resolve Disputes
Even before this election, many large businesses have moved to include mandatory arbitration clauses in their contracts. This may increase in the coming year, and mandatory arbitration will be increasingly incorporated into hotel, venue, and other meetings-industry contracts.