Roger Dow has never let a crisis stop him.
The outgoing CEO of the US Travel Association took over in 2005 when the travel industry had not yet fully recovered from the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and a “Fortress America” stance at the Department of Homeland Security was suppressing domestic travel.
His tenure over the next 17 years included coordinating the industry’s response to the Great Recession, the Zika and Ebola outbreaks, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and, most recently, the Covid-19 pandemic.
And during his time at the helm of US Travel, he helped lead the industry to record inbound visits for 10 consecutive years, from 2009 to 2019.
Dow “leaves a tremendous legacy,” said NYC & Company CEO Fred Dixon. During the pandemic, he added, “Roger’s steadfast leadership has been unmatched.”
Dow may be stepping down from his post, but he’s not stepping away from dealing with the travel industry’s crises. Rather, he is heading into the eye of the latest storm.
“The two biggest obstacles to the growth of the travel industry are workforce and sustainability issues,” said Dow, revealing that his upcoming venture, Future Work Solutions, will aim to solve the country’s hospitality workforce crisis. and with Forbes he will create sustainability criteria for hotels. “I see a lot of pressure coming from companies and agencies saying we’ll only book into hotels or places that have a sustainability check.”
Dow said he considered retiring both when he left a career with Marriott International in 2004 and again in 2010 when he completed what was supposed to be a five-year tenure at US Travel. Instead, he heeded the advice of a friend.
“Bill Marriott is one of my best mentors and friends in life,” Dow said of the 90-year-old executive chairman of Marriott International. “Three or four times in the last year, I’ve talked about retirement and Bill Marriott said, ‘Never retire.'” He said, “All my friends that I see retire, half get sick and die. Even if you want to be a greeter at Walmart, do something to get you out of bed in the morning.” So I found something to get out of bed in the morning.”
A vendor on Capitol Hill
Dow’s legacy is defined by his ties to travel and Washington. He helped the organization pursue relief and recovery for travel companies during the pandemic and, over time, convinced the White House to repeal the federal pre-departure testing requirement for incoming air travelers.
“Roger Dow is the reason the US Travel Association has a seat at the table on key issues affecting our industry,” said Elliott Ferguson, CEO of Destination DC.
Among Dow’s major achievements is industry unification.
“When everyone works together, that’s when things get done,” he said, pointing to 13 visa waivers that were added during his tenure. He points to South Korea to show how valuable a visa waiver country can be: 425,000 South Koreans visited a year before receiving Visa Waiver Program status. A year later, it was 800,000.
From the left, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Roger Dow and US Travel Executive Vice President of Public Affairs Tori Emerson Barnes. Photo Credit: USA Travel Association
Dow also cited the launch of trusted traveler programs like TSA PreCheck and Global Entry “because of the pressure we put on the government” and the creation of Brand USA, the country’s marketing arm. Before 2010, when President Barack Obama signed the Branding USA/Travel Act, there was no ongoing legal government support for travel and tourism. The act was reauthorized by Congress in 2014 and 2019.
He credits his accomplishments to a skill he honed at Marriott: sales. He insists he has never been a lobbyist.
“I realized this is just sales, and that’s what I’ve been doing all my life,” he said. “He is sitting with Mr. or Mrs. Congressman, saying: “Here’s how many jobs you’re losing, here’s what we’re proposing, here’s how much it costs. Would it make sense to change that?”
During two decades in DC, Dow learned to approach each relationship differently.
“Obama was someone you could talk to firmly and he would respond,” Dow said. “When Trump came into the game, I got a lot of criticism: ‘You’re not tough enough on Trump.’ But you have to understand the person you’re dealing with. I saw people go to the White House and not come out with what wanted. And I said, you know, we’re going to have to take another route.”
When Penny Pritzker was secretary of commerce under Obama, Dow said she approached him and said, “Roger, I’m not going to be here long. What can we do? Where can we make a difference?” I said ‘China’.”
Pritzker helped facilitate five-year visas for students and 10-year visas for tourists. China’s inbound tourism market grew from 300,000 to 3.2 million in 2019, with each visitor spending an average of $7,000. “The math is shocking,” Dow said.
“The lesson is that one size does not fit all,” he said of political relations. “I have a very, very good relationship with Nancy Pelosi. I have a very good relationship with Kevin McCarthy. And you should be able to do that.” He also counts Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota as friends.
And its members appreciate the results.
“Through his tireless dedication and passion, standing by the industry through every ups and downs, he has given tourism a national identity and a voice in DC,” said Visit California CEO Caroline Beteta. “He understands the value of relationships and was able to bring competitors together to strengthen us as a whole. No one works harder or has a better sense of humor than Roger, and we are fortunate to have had his leadership his on so many key issues. moments.”