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Sports Business Industry Watching as Election Looms

19 Oct, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Setting aside the vitriol in which the 2016 presidential election seems to be steeped, it’s possible to focus on a few ways the outcome will actually influence the industry in which sports travel professionals make their living.

According to TravelPulse, there are multiple issues at stake here; while they relate to the larger travel industry, it’s a short hop to see how this dovetails with the interests of sports travel planners. The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), in fact, was one of the first to weigh in.

“This is certainly an interesting election for our industry, with a former Secretary of State who has traveled the world on one hand and someone with a financial stake in the hospitality industry on the other,”  Eben Peck, senior vice president of government and industry affairs, told TravelPulse. “While ASTA does not endorse presidential candidates, we are watching closely and plan to dig into the candidates’ policy agendas as they get fleshed out looking for issues of concern to the travel agency community and the broader travel industry. We’ll be looking for policies that create an environment in which Americans are free to choose where, when and how to travel. An environment that doesn’t try to unduly tax travel agencies or unfairly impose onerous and unnecessary regulations on small businesses.”

Another issue will be whether foreign athletes can come into the U.S. easily to play, and how long it takes American athletes to obtain the documentation necessary to travel out of the country. Michael Wildes, Esq., managing partner at Wildes & Weinberg PC in New York, and adjunct professor of immigration law at the Cardozo School of Law, encourages planners of events to consider this.

“Sports travelers beware: change of administrations has logistical effects on the officers who approve visas,” Wildes notes. “Many consulates often put off delicate queries, passing the puck to the next adjudicator. Teams and players need to dedicate additional travel time to accommodate unforeseeable delays at US Consular posts and Ports of Entry. This is particularly relevant to individuals with adverse criminal or immigration histories.”

In fact, an article in Meetings & Conventions noted recently, travel to meetings is expected to decrease in 2017, given the uncertain political climate surrounding the election.

One thing sure to happen by 2017 is the USA's ability to bid on the 2026 World Cup. According to an article in Soccer America Daily,

It's rather clear who U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati is rooting for. Former President Bill Clinton headed the unsuccessful 2022 bid in 2010, so U.S. Soccer has old ties to Team Clinton. Donna Shalala, president of the Clinton Foundation, is an at-large member of U.S. Soccer's board of directors. Gulati's only comment on the presidential election came at a media roundtable in June during the Copa Centenario:

"The world’s perception of the United States is affected by who is in the White House. It has some bearing, for sure. Having somebody in the White House that gives the country an outward-looking view and a personality that is more easier accepted around the world is positive for the United States and then more specifically for hosting events here and for our general image from a sports perspective, but it’s far beyond sports. A co-hosted World Cup with Mexico would be a little trickier if Secretary Clinton is not in the White House. Can it help you or can it hurt you? Both.”

Aside from the election, the year 2016 may be remembered as one filled with changes to travel and laws relating to it. Aside from providing more avenues for travel to Cuba, there have been plenty of measures hailed as big wins for consumers (but not so much for the travel industry.) According to the Washington Post, those included the following:

Requiring airlines to seat families with children together without charging them more: This might have been the most troubling item for airlines, in terms of new regulation, is a rule that directs the transportation secretary to establish a policy to allow children under age 13 “to be seated in a seat adjacent to the seat of an accompanying family member over the age of 13” at no additional cost. There is an exception for when such a seat assignment would require an upgrade to another cabin class or a seat with extra legroom or seat pitch, for which additional fees generally are required. But as a practical matter, this policy is certain to chip away at the billions of dollars in seat reservation fees the industry collects from passengers annually. (The rule was welcomed by the Family Travel Association, which had been pushing for the legislation, and will likely be seen as a victory to planners of youth sports events, who have long had to put up with complaints from parents who were flying with children to away games.)

Acceleration of the security screening process: Here’s another case driven by consumer complaints about Transportation Security Administration (TSA) lines. The bill offers several measures intended to expedite screening, including one that directs the agency to keep the PreCheck program’s screening lines open and available during peak and high-volume travel times at appropriate airports. Another mandates “every practicable effort” to provide expedited screening at standard lanes during times when PreCheck is closed.

The bill also requires the TSA to deploy “private sector solutions” in order to increase PreCheck program enrollment. It orders the government to offer secure online and mobile enrollment opportunities and partnerships to collect biographic and biometric identification information. This would be done through kiosks, mobile devices or other mobile platforms to increase enrollment flexibility.

Refund Bag Fees – and just when baggage is permanently lost: Under the new plan, airlines are required to issue prompt refunds for baggage fees when luggage is lost for more than 12 hours. The extension directs the DOT to create a rule to require airlines to promptly and automatically refund “any ancillary fees” paid for checked baggage if it is delivered later than 12 hours after the arrival of a domestic flight or 15 hours for an international flight. It is unclear what portion of the $3.8 billion in baggage fees collected last year was kept under those circumstances, but under this new rule it is almost certain that baggage-fee revenue will decline.

Normalization of relations with Cuba: In December 2015, the U.S. and Cuba agreed to restore direct, commercial flights between the two countries for the first time in over half a century. Airlines began launching scheduled U.S.-Cuba routes in late August. Some sports events have already been held there, such as American athletes' appearance in La Habana Triathlon, and others are planned, including the first-ever Spartan Race in Cuba in March 2017.

Last March, Obama opened up Cuba to solo travel, no longer requiring Americans to travel with an authorized group. That move prompted some Cuba resorts to market to American travelers, even though leisure travel is prohibited and the “people-to-people” requirement is still in place. Donald Trump has noted that he would reverse the course on Cuba if elected. The travel industry claims Trump's policy would constitute a setback.

The year 2016 will also be remembered as a time destinations had to cope with unexpected hurdles. Accordingly, Congress earmarked funds for Flint, Michigan, to aid its efforts to address its lead-contaminated water supply. It also approved funding to Louisiana and other states hit with flooding, and money to fund the response to Zika.

And on the night of November 8, there may be even more changes afoot.

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