U.S. Travel’s Roger Dow Announces 2022 Retirement and Shares Upcoming Plans for Driving the Industry's Recovery 

August 18, 2021

After 16 years as an extraordinary leading advocate for all segments of the travel industry, including meetings and events, U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow recently announced his plan to retire in July 2022.  

U.S. Travel’s board of directors extended Dow’s contract after he agreed to stay for one more year, continuing to advocate for the industry as it recovers from the financial devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The board is very grateful to Roger for his steadfast leadership and profound influence on this industry and for strengthening U.S. Travel as a key resource and unifying voice,” said U.S. Travel National Chair Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line. “We are especially glad that Roger will remain in this critically important role over the next year as we continue to rebuild and chart the future course of U.S. Travel and the industry.”

In the coming months, Duffy will name a representative search committee, and the U.S. Travel board will begin a transparent and inclusive process to identify Dow’s successor.

A Prolific Tenure

Since taking the helm in January 2005, Dow has guided U.S. Travel and the broader industry through periods of remarkable growth—marked by 10 consecutive years of expansion between 2010 and 2019—and significant challenges, including the meetings and events crisis of 2009 and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

At the beginning of his tenure, he brought the industry together under one unifying voice and ensured policymakers on Capitol Hill recognized the importance of the overall industry to the American economy. 

Through regular meetings with the U.S. executive branch and congressional leaders to advance policies that benefit the broader travel industry, the efforts of Dow and his team have resulted in major legislative victories. Dow led the charge that drove the formation and passage of the Travel Promotion Act, which created Brand USA, the nation’s first national travel program. With the help of industry partners, Dow also headed the effort to create the Meetings Mean Business Coalition in 2009, which continues to aggressively promote and defend the value of face-to-face business meetings, trade shows, conferences and conventions. 

During the COVID-19 crisis, Dow brought the travel industry together and secured pandemic-related government relief for its hard-hit sectors, and U.S. Travel launched the Let’s Go There Coalition to inspire future travel following steep declines associated with the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, in June, the Let’s Meet There initiative was unveiled. Spearheaded by a coalition of travel industry businesses and organizations under U.S. Travel’s umbrella, it is aimed at supporting the full and safe return of business travel and professional meetings and events. 

The Year Ahead

During the coming year before he retires, Dow said he is committed to working with the U.S. Travel board and his team to continue leading the industry’s recovery and ensuring that the association is on a firm trajectory for its next leader.

In an interview with TSNN, Dow shared his upcoming plans, thoughts on the state of the industry and insights on a safe and successful recovery from the pandemic. 

What are your major plans over the next year at U.S. Travel, particularly with regard to the meetings and events industry? 

My primary focus will remain on how we can continue to drive the travel industry’s recovery. While we’re seeing positive signs of a rebound in domestic leisure travel, other sectors—international inbound travel and business travel—are lagging and could take as long as four years to recover from this crisis. That’s simply too long to wait. 

To ensure a faster recovery of the meetings and events industry, the broader travel industry will continue to rally around the Let’s Meet There initiative, which seeks to elevate to policymakers and business leaders the value of in-person meetings and events. 

Other major areas of focus will be reopening international inbound travel, restoring our workforce and modernizing America’s travel infrastructure, among other key priorities. 

Finally, over the past year and a half, this environment has shown us that our industry must remain nimble and quick-thinking. This is a challenge unlike any we have ever faced, and the rules of engagement are constantly evolving. We must stay on our toes to ensure we are able to keep our businesses open while also adhering to the best health and safety guidance to protect the traveling public. 

Why is the meetings and events industry a key driver for the travel industry's recovery overall?

Pre-pandemic, the professional meetings and events industry was a major driver of the U.S. travel economy. In 2019 alone, nearly 500 million business trips were taken in the U.S, with $348 billion in spending supporting 2.5 million American jobs. That productivity was all but extinguished last year. 

Professional meetings and events help to get business done—I’ve always said there is nothing like a face-to-face connection. We are sorely missing the new business opportunities, new relationships and ultimately, the revenue generated by meetings and events, so the recovery of that sector is crucial to our industry’s overall recovery. 

As the meetings and events industry works to return to pre-pandemic levels, how can it overcome some of the major challenges it faces? 

First, the CDC should update the definition of "large gatherings" to provide a clear distinction between professional meetings and events (PMEs) and other large, informal gatherings. As some states have stricter gathering limitations based on outdated guidance, updated language from the CDC could enable PMEs to restart more fully with clear and appropriate guidelines for safe execution of these specific events. 

Also, as business leaders, it is crucial that we lead the charge back to planning and safely attending meetings. There is a proven competitive advantage to face-to-face engagement. Business travel is a vital component to reestablishing connections and reinvigorating our businesses. 

What have been some of the biggest highlights of your long tenure with U.S. Travel?

I would say bringing together a large industry of multiple, distinct sectors and identifying and advancing common objectives, like working to establish Brand USA, defending the value of business meetings and events, helping to create the 10-year visa for Chinese visitors and pressing for the expansion of the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. 

Also, I’ve seen how this industry comes together and supports one another during difficult times, none more so than the devastating effects of the global pandemic that we’re still addressing. 

When I first started at U.S. Travel in 2005, we were in the midst of the “Lost Decade” of travel—the 10 years of decreased travel demand that followed the September 11 attacks. People said that travel would never recover, and that air travel would never be the same. Not only did we recover, but we experienced 10 years of consecutive growth between 2010 and 2019. The same focus and determination that fueled our recovery from the Lost Decade of travel was exemplified throughout this present crisis as well. 

To have played a part in bringing the industry together through these crises is something I am incredibly proud of.

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Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? 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