Friday, November 28, 2008

How Obama could affect travel

How Obama could affect travel
Posted on Sun, Nov. 23, 2008

It's obvious that the new president-elect will have more urgent matters
than travel on his agenda. But after dealing with the economic crisis,
Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran, health care, energy, education and more, he
may have time for one or two lesser matters affecting the travel
industry. Here, without partisan comment either pro or con, are the ways
in which Barack Obama may affect the world of travel:

• Greater support for Amtrak. The president-elect has supported larger
appropriations for operating and expanding Amtrak, while his adversary,
Sen. John McCain, was well-known for opposing that federal support. In
addition, the Senate's most active opponent of Amtrak -- Sen. John
Sununu of New Hampshire -- was defeated for re-election, and there's no
doubt that a far more favorable environment now exists for improving and
expanding Amtrak.

In the campaign, Obama also favored creation of a National
Infrastructure Bank for funding such initiatives as reviving the many
hundreds of miles of abandoned railroad tracks, which would restore rail
service to such cities as Nashville, Tenn., and Las Vegas. Though a
primary purpose of that bank was to create jobs, the dividends to our
travel facilities are obvious.

• Support for the Travel Promotion Act. Numerous members of Congress
have endorsed a major program to establish an advertising and marketing
medium for encouraging foreign travel to the United States, and Obama
was one of the early signatories of that legislation. McCain opposed
such use of federal power, and now there is no doubt that a nationally
supported organization for promoting travel to the United States will be

• Easing of restrictions on travel by Cuban-Americans to visit relatives
in Cuba. Though the overall travel embargo on Cuba probably will be
maintained, at least on paper if not in practice, there undoubtedly will
be new regulations increasing the frequency by which Cuban-Americans can
visit their relatives and raising the amount of money they can spend
there. This was a major issue in South Florida during the campaign, and
Obama went strongly on record as permitting greater travel there by
Cuban-Americans. As to Cuban travel by the rest of us (and despite
statements by Obama that he does not support ending the embargo quite
yet), it's predicted by many that the federal government will no longer
be eager to enforce those restrictions on leisure travel, and the
situation will revert to what it was several years ago: A steady traffic
there by Americans flying quietly into Havana from Jamaica, the Bahamas,
Canada and Mexico.

• Major improvements in the air traffic control system: A constant
emphasis was directed by candidate Obama to the need for greatly
increased funding of air traffic control systems (and McCain advocated
the same). The new administration apparently will propose appropriating
several billions of dollars to measures that should reduce delays and
improve safety.

• An increase in the number of foreign visitors able to come here
without visas: Up until now, it was mainly citizens of Westernmost
Europe (Ireland, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, etc.) who were
allowed to visit the United States without first obtaining expensive
visas. During the campaign, Obama suggested adding several other major
countries to the visa-free list: Brazil, South Korea, Greece and others.
Many observers predict that this may reverse the present downward trend
of tourism to the United States.

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