Meeting Mentor Magazine

December 2023

Meeting and Travel Leaders on Board with New Infrastructure Bill

On Nov. 15, President Biden signed into law a contentious infrastructure bill that includes $550 billion earmarked for transportation projects. Among the areas the funds will go toward are upgrades to airports, roads, bridges, the railway system, mass transit and more.

While there has been considerable backlash from some quarters, the response to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act from the travel, tourism, hospitality and meetings sectors has generally been positive. As U.S. Travel Association (USTA) President and CEO Roger Dow said, the new law will “have a profound impact on how people travel for decades to come” — including those traveling to U.S.–based meetings and conventions.

The airports, roads, railways and broadband upgrades are needed to ensure the U.S. infrastructure is able to support the face-to-face meetings and events industry as it begins to normalize after two years of disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance (ECA). The meetings industry essentially shut down in March 2020 as the pandemic began to spread across the U.S. and the world, leading to a loss in the U.S. GDP of almost 80%.

The meetings and events industry is expected to reach pre-pandemic levels by 2023, which means a resurgence of international attendees and exhibitors to U.S.­–based shows. The new infusion of funding into shoring up the nation’s infrastructure will create a more accommodating marketplace for global business, according to a statement by  International Association of Expositions and Events President and CEO David DuBois, CMP, CAE, FASAE, CTA.

The airports that meeting and event organizers rely on to get their people to in-person events will receive $25 billion for updates and improvements, up from the approximately $3.5 billion annually they had been receiving in Airport Improvement Program funds.

“With air travel on the rise, America’s airports look forward to getting to work on hundreds of essential improvement projects that will expand the capacity of our terminals and runways, increase the resiliency of our infrastructure, and improve the overall passenger experience,” Airports Council International – North America President-CEO Kevin Burke said in a statement.

Roads, bridges and other major roadway projects will receive $110 billion. The new law also includes $40 billion for repairing, replacing and rehabbing bridges, $39 billion to bring public transit up to date, and $66 billion to modernize passenger and freight rail, including eliminating Amtrak’s maintenance backlog and expanding rail service outside of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions.

Dow said, “By making historic investments in our transportation infrastructure now, we can emerge from the pandemic with stronger, more modern and efficient systems that can facilitate a resurgence in travel demand. U.S. Travel has strongly advocated for this important piece of legislation and championed these important policies for years. The historic levels of travel infrastructure investment provided by this act—including for airports, railways, highways, electric vehicle charging infrastructure and more—will accelerate the future of travel mobility.”

The bill also establishes a Chief Travel and Tourism Officer at the Department of Transportation to help coordinate travel and tourism policy across all modes of transportation. This role, said Dow, “will be vital for rebuilding our industry and preparing to welcome back visitors from around the world.”

The law also provides $65 billion to improve the nation’s broadband infrastructure. While most of the urban areas that host the majority of meetings and conventions have good internet coverage already, expanding and enhancing coverage in areas that currently have little or no broadband internet will be increasingly important now that the hybrid event option has gained traction over the course of the pandemic. As coverage improves, more remote attendees will be able to attend the online portion of hybrid events held both in the U.S. and internationally, enabling event organizers to continue to expand the reach of their programs.

While American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) President and CEO Chip Rogers joined Dow and Burke in applauding the new influx of infrastructure funding, he expressed some displeasure with some of the funding’s details.

“Reliable and modern infrastructure is vital to the hotel industry because it facilitates travel, commerce and American competitiveness,” said Rogers. “This package would go a long way toward achieving those ends, but it comes at a steep cost. The bill would terminate the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) two months early. Many hotels and their employees are counting on this program—especially given lingering COVID-19 concerns and the negative economic impact they are having on hotels. While we strongly support investment in our nation’s infrastructure, struggling hotel employees and small businesses should not be forced to bear that cost, and AHLA will continue advocating to maintain programs that are helping hoteliers through the pandemic.”

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About MeetingMentor
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