By Mitra Sorrells Posted May 2, 2012, 5:20 PM EDT
On Tuesday, the U.S. Travel Association’s Vote Travel bus tour stopped in Orlando, the 24th city on a nationwide tour intended to raise awareness of the value of travel and tourism to the economy. The Orlando stop, coordinated with help from Visit Orlando, took place at Pointe Orlando on International Drive, a hub of tourist and convention activity. The bright blue Vote Travel bus hit the road in March and will cover more than 20,000 miles and make 39 stops before the tour ends May 21 in Tampa.
“At the beginning of the year we were brainstorming about a theme for Travel and Tourism Week,” said Blain Rethmeier, senior vice president for public affairs for the association. “We wanted to play on the election and also to take the travel industry from the perception of it being sort of a fun, frivolous industry [to] emphasizing the huge economic benefit that it provides the economy. Our goal is to make travel part of the conversation so when candidates are running for reelection, they should have a stance on travel.”
At stops along the tour, association leaders are meeting with elected officials to urge them to sign a pledge supporting “policies that safely and effectively reduce barriers to travel to and within the United States.” More than 100 political leaders have signed the pledge, and Rethmeier expects that number to increase next week when the bus stops in Washington, D.C., at a rally for Travel and Tourism Week. The bus will also stop in Tampa and Charlotte, hosts of the Republican and Democratic national conventions later this year.
“Those are unique opportunities when we will have thousands of people descending on these cities to take part in what our industry provides on a daily basis: meetings and conventions,” Rethmeier said. “Our effort is to go in to these cities and make it apparent that these events would not be possible if not for the dedicated employees and the infrastructure that the travel industry provides.”
In conjunction with the tour, the association has introduced a five-point plan to strengthen the travel industry. Point number three is to “Keep America meeting.” “Part of our message has been to emphasize the importance of meetings and conventions and the value of face-to-face meetings,” Rethmeier said, “particularly in light of the General Services Administration scandal.” The association has developed resources to help event professionals share the value of meetings and conventions with elected officials.
The tour is also intended to educate and engage consumers. The side of the bus includes a message asking people to text the word “travel” to a specified number to show support for the travel industry and sign up to receive future updates. The bus also showcases the association’s Twitter handle, @USTravel, and since January the number of followers has grown from 4,000 to more than 27,000. A video the association produced to announce the tour in January has garnered nearly 350,000 views on YouTube. At each stop organizers also provide voter registration information.
With the positive response, Rethmeier said the tour may extend into the summer.