Back in a November column, I said that under any new Presidential administration that we should expect changes that impacted the travel industry. It is inevitable, the only unknowns are how severely it will impact us and at what cost? And what do we need to do as an industry to handle any changes and fight those that are detrimental?
Since November, the two largest changes have been the ban on electronics entering the US in aircraft cabins and the most recent repeal of former President Obama’s relaxing of travel to Cuba. While the first is a major inconvenience; the second has to potential to do harm to our bottom line. So what to do?
For the electronic ban in cabin, we need to keep up to speed on this. At present, larger electronics (laptops, some cameras and tablets) are not allowed to fly into the US from eight countries; but now the Department of Homeland Security is weighing two or more options—adding additional countries to the list, and outright banning laptops and tablets on flights entering or leaving the United States. While not everyone travels internationally, for those that do this is a huge factor. Who wants to put an expensive piece of equipment in the cargo hold? It did not work out well for Dave Carroll. And if you were able to pack it sufficiently, how does one prevent an unscrupulous baggage handler, skycap, or TSA agent from purloining your goods? It will be critical for us to keep up on changes and advise our clients appropriately. I foresee an increase in the use of cloud services like iCloud and Dropbox. Documents will no longer be stored on hard drives, but on the cloud or in portable USB drives where “terminals” will be rented in the destination. I also see an increase in sales of so-called “phablets” to make the long trips a bit more bearable. Working on an iPhone 7+ is not ideal, but it can be done in a pinch, and certainly streaming a movie or a video game is a lot more tolerable on a larger screen.
As for Cuba…when Obama relaxed the restrictions, we all celebrated. Cruise lines and hotels all immediately began plans to handle the influx of American tourists. Not so fast. Just last week, President Trump rescinded the Obama era regulations and it looks like travel to Cuba is on the back burner, if not completely off the table. The initial, obvious impact is that this eliminates a new and exciting destination for most travel professionals. I will go out on a limb here and suggest that there are very few US travel professional that were around when we could routinely sell travel to Cuba. But as with most knee-jerk reactions, the full scope of ramifications has not been ironed out. Remember those hotels, cruise lines, and resorts that all invested in Cuba starting in October 2016? There are people that have vacation and business travel to Cuba already planned. I have no idea the value of this, but what is to become of them? Will refunds be made 100%? Will travel be allowed as long as it was made prior to June 16th? What constitutes “travel” is it deposited travel for 2019 or beyond? Or is it just paid in full, imminent travel? Again, like the laptop and tablet ban, this is an issue that needs to be monitored very carefully.
And, we are just getting started. I have heard grumblings that the WHTI may be tweaked a bit. And who knows what else may lie on the horizon. I think we have entered a new “world” in travel selling. As we have seen, things are now moving very fast and we must be able to adapt to any changes just as fast.
And at the same time, we need to make sure that our advocate on Capitol Hill, ASTA, is very vocal about creating change to policies that prove to be a detriment to the industry. As Bette Davis famously said in All About Eve, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”