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|Initiatives to stimulate travel & tourism growth|
by Alan N. Schlaifer
Law Offices of Alan N. Schlaifer, P.C.
|Recent federal actions are designed to spur American travel and create more jobs in this vital sector, which includes the shared ownership industry. |
Timeshare and other vacation ownership firms should coordinate with federal, state and local agencies, as well as others in their areas, to attract more American and foreign visitors. From news reports we have seen, this is exactly what is being done, especially with dollar weakness making U.S. visits more affordable for millions in other lands who view our nation as a desirable destination.
A key action occurred in January, when President Obama signed an executive order and new initiatives to significantly increase travel and tourism to and in the United States. America’s tourism and travel industry has a great impact. This $1.2 trillion sector accounts for 2.7 percent of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and 7.5 million jobs in 2010. International travel to the U.S. alone supports 1.2 million jobs.
The travel and tourism industry projected that more than 1 million American jobs could be created over the next decade if the U.S. increased its share of international travel. Federal actions included important steps to bolster job creation and better promote the United States as a tourism destination and improve secure visa processing.
The White House announcement called for a national strategy to make the U.S. the world’s top travel and tourism destination, while spurring job creation. The number of travelers from emerging economies with growing middle classes – such as China, Brazil, and India – is projected to grow by 135 percent, 274 percent, and 50 percent respectively by 2016 compared to 2010.
Nationals from these three countries contributed approximately $15 billion dollars and thousands of jobs to the U.S. economy in 2010. Chinese and Brazilian tourists spend more than $6,000 and $5,000 respectively each, per trip, according to the Commerce Department.
The Department of State (DOS) has made progress in processing non-immigrant visas from these key markets. It issued over 7.5 million visas in the last fiscal year, a 17 percent increase from the previous fiscal year. In the 2011 fiscal year, consular officers adjudicated more than one million visa applications in China (34 percent growth) and over 800,000 in Brazil ( 42 percent growth).
Agency action agenda:
Faster visas and visitor clearance, more waivers
DOS and Homeland Security (DHS) have a pilot program to simplify and speed up the non-immigrant visa process for certain applicants. This include the ability to waive interviews for some very low-risk applicants, such as individuals from any country renewing non-immigrant visas, or, in Brazil, younger or older first-time applicants.
Also, Taiwan is being considered for addition to the Visa Waiver Program; over 60 percent of international travelers do not need a visa to visit our nation. That program now includes 36 countries, up nine in the last three years.
Another facet is faster clearance of foreign visitors. Begun as a pilot in 2008, the Global Entry Trusted Traveler Network is a DHS-Customs and Border Protection Program, to facilitate expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. The new initiative seeks to expand it from 131 Global Entry kiosks at 20 major international airports in the U.S. to 24 airports with 97 percent of international travelers and make it permanent.
Major timeshare airport gateways into the U.S. include Orlando, Las Vegas, Honolulu, Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles (LAX) and Miami. Expansion will add Denver and Phoenix.
Global Entry now has over 246,000 members, and over 1 million trusted travelers have Global Entry benefits.
To better inform prospective visitors from other countries, the Commerce Department will establish and maintain a public website. That site can be useful to your resort and your owners and other guests, such as exchangers. Key information and statistics from across the federal government will assist industry and travelers in understanding visa processes in key travel and tourism markets, and entry times into the U.S.
More U.S. travel promotion and growth
The executive order charged the secretaries of Commerce and Interior with co-leading an interagency task force to develop recommendations for a National Travel and Tourism Strategy to promote domestic and international travel opportunities throughout the United States.
The task force is to coordinate with the Corporation for Travel Promotion (now Brand USA; www.theBrandUSA.com), a non-profit public-private corporation established by Congress through the Travel Promotion Act of 2009 to promote international travel to the U.S.
BrandUSA’s chair is ARDA member Stephen J. Cloobeck, chairman and CEO of Diamond Resorts International, Las Vegas, a fast-growing independent timeshare and hospitality brand. That means our industry is well-represented by a dynamic leader.
Brand USA CEO Jim Evans announced that Marriott, Disney and Best Western have each committed $1 million in cash plus in-kind commitments to the Brand USA marketing budget. With the 2-1 federal match of private contributions, these investments will yield $21 million in new funds for Brand USA’s growing marketing budget.
“We are well on our way to reaching and exceeding our target of $100 million in FY12,” said Evans. “Brand USA already has great momentum, which will ensure a strong budget for the global marketing campaign we are preparing to launch in April.”
The task force will focus on strategies for increasing tourism and recreation jobs by promoting visits to our national treasures. The Interior Department manages iconic destinations in our national parks, wildlife refuges, cultural and historic sites, monuments and other public lands that attract travelers from around the country and the globe. In 2010, American and international travelers made over 400 million visits to these lands.
To obtain more stakeholder input, Commerce Secretary Bryson appointed 32 private sector CEOs, representing major facets of travel and tourism from across the U.S., to the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board. Their job is to build upon the work undertaken by the past board addressing travel facilitation, visa policy, improving the international travel entry experience, aviation security, energy security, crisis communications and research and data, among other issues.
“This board represents the eyes and ears of our nation’s travel and tourism industry, and I am committed to working with each of the esteemed members to bring more visitors to the United States,” Bryson said.
None of the 32 new members is in shared ownership. Yet, the industry should still have strong advocates in members from major timeshare destinations such as Christopher Thompson, president and CEO, Visit Florida, and Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
Lessons from CEOs:
Bosses undercover and in the open
Cloobeck was featured in the 2012 season premiere of CBS’s popular “Undercover Boss” series. As you may know, the head of a large enterprise is disguised as a new worker to find out what is really happening in his or her business.
Despite his lack of manual labor experience (his wife said on the show, possibly tongue-in-cheek, that he couldn’t change a light bulb), he had four “Undercover Boss” jobs. Wearing his wig, glasses and goatee, he aided and observed a resort engineer, painter, front desk clerk, and booking agent.
In each case, he learned about strengths and weaknesses of his company. At the call center, he saw that the agent was unable to properly serve any of the callers while he was with her. That meant lost bookings and weaker credibility with customers.
Unlike most bosses, who keep their cover, he was so frustrated he took off his disguise, identified himself, and told the agent he was not unhappy with her, but rather with the inadequate training she had received. He then went to her supervisor to address the training issue.
Four Seasons CEO highlights pillars
Supporting 50 years of service and success
At Johns Hopkins Carey Business School’s Leaders Legends series, Katie Taylor, president and CEO of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, described how her company became and remains a leader in luxury hospitality.
While she has not yet been an undercover boss, she has served the company in many ways during her 23 years there. Before the top job, she served as president and chief operating officer – or “CEO in training” as she’s referred to it – for three years and as the company’s president of worldwide business operations for eight years, overseeing hotel and residential product design, construction and development, acquisition and corporate planning, corporate finance and legal affairs, human resources, and administration.
Four Seasons’ portfolio comprises 86 hotels and resorts in 35 countries, with more than 60 projects are various stages of planning or development.
Among her numerous accolades is HOTELS magazine’s recognition as 2011 Corporate Hotelier of the World – the first woman to receive the award. Four Seasons is the only hospitality company rated among the top 100 employers in all 15 years of FORTUNE magazine’s listing.
A major factor in her award and the company’s success has been the four pillars of Four Seasons: quality, service, culture and brand. These are embodied in a statement of goals, beliefs and principles rooted in the Golden Rule for everyone’s behavior: in “all interactions with our guests, customers, business associates, and colleagues … to deal with others as we would have them deal with us.”
“Who we are” is to offer “only experiences of exceptional quality … with a deeply instilled ethic of personal service” so that the company may maintain its “position as the world’s premier hospitality company.”
“What We Believe” is that the “greatest asset, and the key to our success, is our people,” with each employee needing “a sense of dignity, pride, and satisfaction” in what they do. “Because satisfying our guests depends on the united efforts of many, we are most effective when we work together cooperatively, respecting each other’s contributions and importance.”
Taking it all together, Taylor said that service is the company’s top priority. “Our main goal is to ensure service is delivered consistently throughout all properties around the world.”
The ultimate luxury: Time
Some people might think that luxury means just a high price or fancy rooms. But she says, “Customers are looking for the greatest luxury of all – the luxury of time – so that their time and dollars are spent wisely. Time is the one thing they can’t buy or make more of.”
Four Seasons has an unwavering commitment to that principle, and in providing essential services to travelers. That is why, even though hospitality was one of the industries hardest hit by the Great Recession, almost all customers came back to Four Seasons: “They saw the value in service that could not be replicated, and in time saved and memories made.”
She notes, “In the business of service, there’s no app for quality control. Consumption and production are simultaneous. When service is delivered, it’s a make or break point, when the value of your business proposition is confirmed or denied. All employees are part of this. They get to know customer likes and dislikes. You must respond to – and even anticipate – needs and wants.”
She admits these facets “are not unique to luxury hotels.” Each of you, whether your business is a timeshare or fractional resort, or a company providing services to shared ownership, may benefit by adapting these principles to your firm.
Hire the right people
To maximize the likelihood that everyone the company hires will work out well, Four Seasons invests a huge amount of time and funds in selecting the right people. She says, “It is a lengthy and costly process, but minor compared to changing attitudes and habits of employees.”
When they opened Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai – their first property in India – 34,000 people applied, resulting in 15,000 interviews, to hire 450 people – one out of every 75 who applied. In Baltimore, it was one out of 16.
In hiring, you want to know “what’s in their head, what’s their value system under stress. Focus on that, and you’ll get the guest experience right.” You want a group of outstanding employees who “understand their job is to make happy guests,” seemingly ordinary people who have never stayed at a Four Seasons who make its hotel world-class.
Now with 35,000 employees in total, they want people who realize the future of the company depends on their performance. Many employees have been with them for 20 or more years.
While there’s no “Undercover Boss,” they achieve employee engagement in a different way. Each general manager, is expected to inspect rooms, eat lunch in the employee cafeteria, check the loading dock and more to reinforce that each job is important. “You manage in leading by example, not by power.”
Having the right people, treated as members of an elite team, means those who take “extraordinary actions” when needed. Their New York City hotel seamstress used one of her own pearl buttons to help a guest whose dress was missing one.
Dealing with complaints
Taylor candidly admits, “Hundreds of things go wrong every day.” One of the ways the company uses to learn about and respond to these issues is social media, as the guests are very vocal. Four Seasons has employees who stay in touch with guests who tweet on Twitter.
Because guests have high expectations, dealing effectively with complaints – “service recovery” – leaves an indelible positive mark on guests. One positive blog reached one-half million people that way.
To get their culture instilled in the staff at a property, they must have right leader. “If your leader does not embody your core values, you must ask that person to leave.”
The same principle applies to others. “It does not matter if it’s your most star-studded sales person, or the message you’ll send is that your cultural fabric is torn. If you make a mistake, deal with it quickly, or employees will think it’s a lot of window dressing.”
Use the right word to hit your target audience
Sometimes the misuse and abuse of the English language, or even other tongues, comes in expensive ad campaigns. The result can be that your audience does not understand what you are saying, or has a negative reaction.
First case in point: Capitol One Bank’s national blitz featuring comedian Jerry Stiller.
The big idea, as you know if you’ve seen them, is that you get “5X” – five times – the interest, a full 1 percent (wow…) from money market accounts there compared to the national average at other banks. Fine, everyone can understand that.
We’ll ignore the fact that savers are getting short-changed by the Fed’s policy. Also, the 1 percent (interest rate, not the counter to the self-described, self-aggrandizing “99 percent” in the protest movement), minus taxes, is below the inflation rate.
Where we find verbal trouble is in two Yiddish terms Stiller utters. One is “bupkis,” and the other is “tuches” (with a hard “h”). The first, in case you don’t understand it, means “nothing,” or “peanuts” (what you’re getting from other banks).
The second is what you sit on, your behind, rear, or what is sometimes called your “tush.”
Our point is that the two chosen terms, while humorous to the minority (even of Jewish people) who understand them, are not understood by the vast majority. Alternatives, such as “peanuts” and “tush” or “behind,” would be amusing to more people.
Rare is the punch line that gets laughs when the audience simply doesn’t understand it. No one who hears Stiller’s remarks is going to look online or pick up a copy of Leo Rosten’s linguistically magnificent classic, “The Joys of Yiddish.”
Second example: a huge, prominent recreational group said its trade show had a “litany” of new products.
What’s wrong with that? Simply that “litany” means a “long or tedious speech or recital.” Your audience just hit the “snooze alarm.”
Instead, use more positive words to refer to the variety of exciting offerings, or you will get, if you’ll pardon the expression, “bupkis,” excuse me, “peanuts.”