100 Years of Advancing Destinations

Lobbying on the Hill and at Home

Author: Guest Michael Jacobson, U.S. Travel's Director of Grassroots Advocacy and Political Action Committee
Posted: February 04, 2016
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U.S. Travel is excited to partner with DMAI for the fourth consecutive year to bring you Destination Capitol Hill (DCH), on March 16-17. During DCH, tourism leaders have the opportunity to come to Washington, D.C. and speak as a unified voice in support of the travel industry. Year after year, our industry continues to fuel local job growth and local economies. With direct travel employment at eight million, and the travel economy generating nearly $930 billion in spending per year, we have a story that Congress is excited to hear. We plan to meet with over 200 congressional offices this year—and after we’re done, we’re sure the Hill will be abuzz with the talk of travel and tourism.

Your support and active participation in DCH is invaluable to the travel industry’s grassroots advocacy efforts. As such, we will provide in-depth training on everything you need to be a strong travel advocate both during your time in Washington and throughout the year. During panel discussions on Wednesday, March 16, attendees will hear from policy experts on several crucial travel issues. Specifically, they will address the need to defend the Visa Waiver Program at a time when it is often misunderstood. We will also be advocating to modernize our airports by increasing air service to destinations nationwide and providing airports the resources needed to accommodate significant air travel growth over the next decade. Our third priority will be to encourage Congressional leaders to consider travel as a primary industry when formulating new legislative proposals and responding to crises. 

Additionally, attendees will receive tips on what makes a Hill meeting memorable and impactful. It is important to remember that while phone calls and personalized letters to members of Congress can be effective methods of grassroots advocacy, they cannot replace the impact of an in-person meeting with a Representative or Senator, or even a congressional staffer. Whether these meetings take place in-state or in Washington, they allow travel leaders to become recognizable faces and trusted sources of information on issues that affect our industry. This is precisely why we work year-round to help all of our members gain the confidence and knowledge to meet with members of Congress about issues important to the U.S. travel community. 

A great example of the impact of face-to-face congressional appointments is the travel industry’s work to defend Open Skies agreements last year.  First, phone calls and letters from the tourism leaders made Congress aware of the issue and where the industry stood. These calls and letters were then supplemented by in-district events during which members of Congress could hear directly from their local travel community about how Open Skies agreements benefit their cities and states. These meetings were often eye-opening for lawmakers who were previously unfamiliar with the industry’s position on a particular issue.

For those DMOs planning to attend Destination Capitol Hill, it is important that you make the most out of your short appointments with your legislators. In these meetings, we have found that there are three factors that are important for success. First, you’ll want to briefly introduce yourself and express why working in tourism is important to you. This is vital to connecting with the member of Congress (or their staff member). Second, you want to share key metrics and statistics including local visitation numbers, economic impact and jobs supported. If this can be illustrated by a personal story, that’s even better. Every Representative and Senator is interested in how travel supports their local communities and constituents. Third, a clear ask is a must for members of Congress to know what is expected of them. Fortunately, during Destination Capitol Hill, we will provide talking points to attendees to simplify this closing ask.

Above all, remember that meeting with congressional offices at Destination Capitol Hill isn’t the end of your advocacy efforts. Once you have returned home, it is important to continue developing relationships with your legislators and his or her staff members. To become a trusted adviser on travel issues, regular communication with lawmakers’ offices is necessary. When your destination releases new data, for example, or opens a new attraction, be sure to inform your local congressional staff and keep them in the loop. We also recommend bringing together local travel industry professionals, some who may have missed Destination Capitol Hill, for a roundtable discussion of important travel topics with your member of Congress. We even have a toolkit as part of our Travel Talks campaign that can help you plan these events. Check out the Travel Talks toolkit on our website to learn more: travelcoalition.org/campaigns/travel-talks.

We hope to see you in Washington for Destination Capitol Hill this March. For more information or to register visit ustravel.org/DCH.