Once again, the travel industry has been caught up in a political controversy not of its making. As you probably heard, the General Services Administration last week kicked up a scandal by spending on a lavish $823,000 staff retreat in Las Vegas, parts of which ended up on You Tube. That, combined with some other questionable travel expenses, caught the eye of Congress, which vows to investigate and take necessary action. (This is the kind of scandal that's ripe for election-year grandstanding.)
Unfortunately, the hospitality industry and hotels in particular are once again being demonized as a non-essential industry that just serves to facilitate fun and games by bureaucrats and fat-cat corporate types. We all remember the AIG fiasco of 2008 and President Obama's intimation that we should all travel less in tough times.
Luckily, unlike past decades, we now have a lucid, strong, convincing and fast-acting advocate, the U.S. Travel Association, to blunt criticisms and reverse these counter-productive attitudes. The day after the story broke about GSA's Las Vegas bash, U.S. Travel mobilized to make sure lawmakers and the media had the right message: the controversy is about poor bureaucratic decision-making, not about the value of travel. The message was delivered to Congressional leaders and the three committee chairmen who are poised to launch investigations which could easily include castigation of travel as a frivolous activity. U.S. Travel also issued a request to anyone in the travel business who may already been affected by this bad news, i.e., lost some government business, or has a success story of federal meetings they hosted that provided value to taxpayers.
With luck, Congress and the pundits will get the message and travel will be spared from this round of business bashing. If so, the issues will undoubtedly raise its ugly head again in the future.