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Sports Travel Industry Trying to Find Footing in a Post-Election World

16 Nov, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

With the election in the books (and what a contentious, hard-fought chapter it was), the sports travel industry is looking ahead to ways a new administration will impact its work. And already, the guessing game has started.

Many in the industry are lining up behind the president-elect (who, after all, is firmly entrenched in the hospitality business). The U.S. Travel Association has noted that in his campaign Donald Trump repeatedly emphasized that travel and infrastructure issues have his attention.

U.S. Travel CEO Roger Dow stated that Trump had "explicitly highlighted the challenges facing our nation's airports and our aviation security system on his path to the White House. He has voiced great enthusiasm for modernizing our roads, rails and airports with his promise to invest $500 billion in infrastructure reform."

It's also worth noting that Trump is an avid golfer, owning courses in the U.S., Scotland and Dubai. (In fact, Golf Digest noted, "No president has ever been as tied to or identified with golf.") He additionally owns hotel properties, something which may make him sympathetic to the needs of the business side of the travel market.

There are many different viewpoints on how Trump could impact the travel and hospitality sector itself, and the New York Times did a terrific job of encapsulating them.

Trump, noted Sports Business Daily, has been involved in the sports industry as far back as the 1980s he was a team owner in the USFL. NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France campaigned for Trump, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is close with Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner. Ivanka described Silver as a “good friend” in a 2012 tweet congratulating him on being named commissioner.

“I learned early on that you can’t hold grudges [in politics],” said Bob Bowman, MLB president of business and media, a lifelong Democrat who worked in the 1980s as Michigan state treasurer under then Gov. James Blanchard.

But there are those who doubt a Trump presence in the White House will specifically benefit sports in the U.S. In an article appearing on the BBC’s website, sports news correspondent Richard Conway stated that Donald Trump’s victory could significantly impact L.A.'s hosting chances. And he did not mean that in a positive way. With the IOC due to vote to decide the host of the Games next September, and with Paris and Budapest both running strong campaigns, it will be necessary for the hosting country to be ready to welcome the world to its Games.

Over the summer, IOC president Thomas Bach spoke about a “world of selfishness where certain people claim to be superior to others.” That was seen as a clear reference to Trump's proposed plans that include potential restrictions on Muslim immigration and the deportation of millions of illegal immigrants. As a result, the BBC notes, Trump's plans may not sit well with IOC voters, drawn from a range of countries and cultures.

LA2024, meanwhile, has congratulated Trump on his victory, adding, “We strongly believe the Olympics and LA2024 transcend politics and can help unify our diverse communities and our world. LA2024 has achieved 88 per cent public support in the latest poll and strong bipartisan Government support at the local, state and federal level. We look forward to working closely with President-elect Trump and his Administration across the Federal Government to deliver a 'New Games for a new Era' that will benefit and inspire the entire Olympic Movement in 2024.”

In fact, LA2024 has called Trump "an enthusiastic Olympic supporter," and predicts a good relationship with him moving forward. (It is worth it to know that Trump has carried the Olympic torch at least once in past Games.)

Inside The Games noted that it is possible Trump could appear at the fall IOC session in Peru, where hosting decisions will be made.

Hill Carrow, CEO of Sports & Properties, a North Carolina-based sports consultant practice that works largely in the NGB and Olympic space, acknowledged “a lot of concern of what message” Trump’s election sends to the international community in terms of the U.S. effort to land the 2024 Games. “But Trump could take steps to mitigate that very easily by doing some quick and positive outreach,” Carrow said. “The Olympics are about embracing all ideals, and he would have to show that type of approach.”

But the Olympics are not the only big hosting question on the table. The U.S., previously seen as being in being in prime position to stage the 2026 World Cup, may need to rethink its strategy. FIFA continues to deliberate expanding the tournament to 40 or even 48 teams, and it is strongly encouraging nations to create cross-border bids.

BBC notes, “The regional football chief, Victor Montagliani, has been careful to keep all options regarding some combination of a US/Mexico/Canada hosting arrangement on the table. But what effect will Trump's plan to build a wall along the US border with Mexico, and to make them pay for it, have on relations between the two countries? Trump's plan to deport illegal immigrants, his so-called “bad hombres,” could also strain relations. World Cup bids only succeed with firm government backing and solid financial guarantees. It's difficult to imagine there would be a friendly atmosphere of co-operation over a joint tournament with such big issues being argued over at senior levels within both governments.”

But FIFA president Sunil Gulati has noted, "We will work with whoever is in the White House," although he adds, it remains to be seen how it will play out, since the time of the election. Gulati said the USA's options were to bid alone, bid with Mexico or Canada, bid with both neighbors or not bid at all. The terms of joint bids will still need to be determined -- including a fundamental issue: who among them, if at any of them, get automatic bids as hosts.

"[Within U.S. Soccer]," he stated, "we have some very different opinions, even within our own board [of directors], about that — about feasibility, about desirability, the need for a joint bid."

FIFA does not expect to begin bid evaluation until January 2019, with a decision on a host being made in May 2020, so there is plenty of time for these questions to be answered, and policies ironed out.

But even with hosting opportunities up in the air, other issues affecting sports also came to the fore during the campaign. 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.

But on the campaign trail, Trump noted that he would reverse the course on Cuba if elected, something that did not sit well with the travel industry.

"We've got a growing number of members participating in the Cuba travel market, and how quickly (Trump) moves on this, whether he moves on this at all, it's really impossible to say," Eben Peck, the American Society of Travel Agents senior vice president of government and industry affairs, told Travel Weekly. "He's going to have a number of priorities when he gets in there in January, but his last public statement about this was that he's going to roll back Obama's regulatory changes on Cuba, and that's of concern."

ASTA remains focused on its mission of representing travel agents by monitoring issues of importance that could change with a new administration. Peck did point out that a number of familiar, travel-friendly faces remain in Congress, and that ASTA would continue to work toward keeping travel accessible and user-friendly.

“This is going to be a tumultuous time, and it will reignite the value of sports as a catalyst for healing,” sports researcher Rich Luker told Sports Business Daily. “And I think the nature of Trump himself is an explosive catalyst for change. That could be motivational to sports, if we have people who are insightful in the way they look at it and can take advantage of it.”

Of course, while it’s not sports tourism-related, it’s interesting to note that Trump doesn’t have much patience with the attention being paid to concussions by the NFL. In an article appearing in Engineering and Technology,  Trump noted, “See, we don’t go by these new and very much softer NFL rules. ‘Concussion, oh! Got a little ding on the head, no, no, you can’t play for the rest of the season.’”

It’s not the first time Trump has taken a swipe at the NFL. In January, at a Republican rally in Reno, Nevada, he declared that American football was boring as well as soft and complained that American football referees flag for a foul as soon upon seeing any physical contact between players.

One thing for sure: The next four years will not be boring. In fact, Trump has been called (no lie) the Uber of Politics. Whether you like it or whether you don't, it's a pretty interesting analogy. Buckle your seat belts, America, and get ready for the ride.

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