The organization continues to advocate for growth , sustainability and development in the international inbound sector
Amid the upheaval experienced by the global travel industry over the past two years, IITA has remained strong and steadfast by continually diversifying its programming, advocating for relief and always prioritizing the needs of its members during a turbulent period.
Tracing its roots back to 1991, IITA is comprised of a diverse group of inbound operators, DMOs and suppliers united in a common goal of strengthening international inbound travel to the United States. The organization benefits its members by hosting the annual Summit to foster connections between suppliers and operators, partnering with ALON Marketing group to create the successful “Steps to Success” training program and offering exposure to new clients through its presence in print publications and industry events throughout the year. IITA also works with the National Parks Service and the U.S. Travel Association to keep members updated on commercial use protocols and government policies that affect international visitors. Throughout the industry’s recovery, IITA has been a leader for operators and supplier members alike.
“As a DMO, it’s extremely important to be informed about what’s going on throughout the international inbound industry, and there’s no better organization than IITA to help us achieve that,” says Mindy Shea, director of international sales for Visit Savannah. The DMO is an enthusiastic member and hosted a recent Summit, a popular annual event hosted by IITA that connects suppliers, operators and industry experts to develop growth in the international inbound travel space. The agenda includes networking sessions, social events, speakers and an operator forum to discuss best practices and growth in MICE travel. Next year’s summit will be hosted by the Bahia Resort Hotel in San Diego. “It was a fantastic opportunity to expose the city to receptive operators, and we see an immensely high value in attending,” adds Shea.
Shea is also a member of IITA’s Education Committee, which conducts an orientation session at the annual IPW conference and frequent webinars for members seeking the latest data to support their business. “This year’s focus will be how to build or rebuild your international business,” says. “Given the dynamics of a domestic travel boom and a delayed international return with a tight labor market in America, we want to help our members navigate these new waters.”
IITA also proved to be an invaluable advocate for international inbound operators and travel industry professionals during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization collaborated with the World Travel & Tourism Council to craft health and hygiene protocols, and as a result was able to award a Safe Travels Stamp to reward safetyconscious operators. IITA also consistently advocated for targeted relief funding from two presidential administrations, lobbied Congress for tourism-centric legislation, and recently sent a delegation to Destination Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. to speak directly to lawmakers.
IITA led in-depth discussions with the Senate Commerce Committee, its subcommittee on Tourism, Trade & Export Production and the leadership of the Senate and House Tourism Caucuses. The talks touched on an extensive list of concerns including additional relief for tour operators, extending employee retention tax credits, improvements to the commercial tour reservation process for national parks and approaches to distributing visitors more equally across the National Park System. The delegation also worked with Congress members to advocate for the elimination of pre-departure testing requirement for vaccinated travelers.
“The reception to these meetings was nothing short of excellent,” says IITA Chairman and Travalco president Peter Van Berkel. “Congressional staff response ranged from a request for more information to an interest in doing more staff work on the subjects raised. This included the impact inbound travel has on the balance of trade and a commitment to co-sponsor legislation of specific benefits to international inbound operators to attract more visitors.”
IITA also supports its members with a diverse suite of programming that includes hybrid webinars and educational materials assembled by the Technology Task Force. “Our goal is to identify members and educate them on the benefits of technological updates,” says Sandi Lackey, senior worldwide sales manager at BWH Hotel Group. “We want to promote a tech standard and explain the benefits of cost-effective processes available through technology providers. Our recent webinar was very well received and went over the difference between hybrid rates and static rates for operators in addition to providing feedback from suppliers who have utilized technology to manage incoming groups more efficiently.”
As international travel has returned in earnest, Lackey has also noticed a heightened interest in sustainability “green tourism” from overseas guests. “International visitors are definitely more aware of a hotel’s sustainability initiatives than before the pandemic,” she says. “Eco-friendly is a big buzzword at the moment from overseas clients, and we in the hospitality sector are looking to balance being environmentally friendly while still providing the amenities our guests are used to.”
To address this, IITA partner Tourism Cares has created a series of initiatives to both attract eco-conscious visitors to the United States and encourage sustainable practices among IITA membership. This includes the creation of the Meaningful Travel Platform—a tool to maximize responsible travel for operators and independent travelers. The platform’s signature element is the Meaningful Map, an interactive tool that allows users to click on businesses and attractions throughout North America to learn about their commitment to environmentalism.
Another key benefit for IITA membership is the Steps to Success program. Run by Jennifer Ackerson of ALON Marketing Group, the program is designed for destinations and tourism stakeholders to generate awareness for international travelers. Participants learn to position the value of international inbound travel to destination stakeholders, work with them to maximize sales cycles and develop sales approaches for sustainable growth.
Through its tireless advocacy, diverse programming and commitment to suitability, IITA is leading the industry as international travel returns, and the benefits of membership only grow as visitors.