Following up on Barbara’s post about the U.S. Travel Association’s Destination: Capitol Hill lobbying event last week — I attended the first day of the program, which consisted of a briefing at the Park Hyatt Washington D.C. on Wednesday afternoon. It was well-attended and high-energy, and all business: talking points were reinforced, schedules were synchronized, and spirits were rallied. Everyone seemed more excited about meeting with their legislators than they were angry at them for living inside the Beltway, more proud of the travel industry and its contributions to the economy than they were defensive about past slights against it.
I’ve written before about how I think that, even as the meetings and travel industry did the vital work of rallying professionals against the tide of the AIG Effect, it clung to its injured pride for a few moments too long. (I’ve also written about my own prickliness when it came to last year’s GSA scandal. So, you know, let he who is without sin cast the first self-righteous tweet.)
But last week’s rally made clear that the past is passed. Destination: Capitol Hill was a positive, forward-looking advocacy program with a clearly defined agenda: support Brand USA, pass the JOLT Act, invest in travel infrastructure, and support government meetings and conferences. (I wrote a more in-depth report about the program for next month’s issue; look for that in Plenary.) That third point — travel infrastructure — is particularly relevant for me at this very moment. I’m on the Northeast Regional, Amtrak’s flagship train service from Washington, D.C., to Boston, on my way up to New York City, where I’ll join the rest of our editorial team to close our May issue. Out the window you see a lot of infrastructure — rail tracks, of course, and bridges and highways and parking lots, and train stations and airports and bus terminals — and a lot of it looks old and beat up, because this is the country’s original commercial backbone.
Rail service has been difficult to maintain in some other parts of the country, but last year the Northeast Regional enjoyed record ridership — more than 8 million passengers and more than $536 million in gross revenue, according to Amtrak. If this train line went away tomorrow, what would happen to the U.S. economy? I don’t want to think about it. Sure, this is just my iron-forged, diesel-driven sliver of the debate, but I’m glad that 300 travel and tourism professionals from across the country came to Washington, D.C., to talk to their members of Congress last week, and I’m glad we as an industry have taken determination and optimism from everything that’s brought us to this point, and thrown the rest away. As Master Shakespeare wrote: “Whereof what’s past is prologue, what to come / In yours and my discharge.”