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Travel officials push back on business travel

The CEO of Internet travel site Travelocity says misguided criticism of business travel has led to a lot of confusion about what's acceptable.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The CEO of Internet travel site Travelocity said Wednesday that misguided criticism of business travel has led to a lot of confusion about what’s acceptable.

Speaking to a Senate subcommittee on tourism, Sam Gilliland said the Treasury Department’s failure to carefully define what constitutes luxury and excessive travel has led to “paralyzing confusion ... in our industry and in corporations.”

“Meetings, conventions and incentive travel are proven business tools that allow companies to establish valuable relationships, solicit feedback and reward employees,” he said.

Gilliland and five other officials in the travel and tourism industry spoke to the Senate subcommittee on Wednesday. Collectively they offered anecdotes from across the country about travel and tourism revenue drying up amid current economic conditions.

Most said overheated rhetoric aimed at business travel was at least partly to blame.

“I think the perception that business travel is not an essential part of conducting commerce has had a really deleterious effect,” said Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “... If business travel comes to a place like Las Vegas, Miami or any other attractive location, it becomes vilified.”

In Las Vegas alone, more than 400 meetings have recently been canceled, said Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the city’s Convention and Visitors Authority.

“It hurts everyone, but more importantly it impacts jobs ... it’s directly impacted over 46,000 employees,” Ralenkotter said. “So we need to have accountability for companies that receive TARP funds, but we need to look at these guidelines so that people continue to travel.”

Senators on the subcommittee seemed to agree. Subcommittee’s Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said the excesses of a few bad actors have unfairly tarnished business travel.

“Most business travel is essential to doing business, and succeeding at business,” Klobuchar said. “... There are ways for businesses to conduct meetings and events in a way that is responsible and productive.”

Jay Witzel, the chairman and CEO of Carlson Hotels, which owns the Radisson hotel chain, said he feared the economic crisis had created an “America where legitimate travel is being questioned and canceled.

“Business travel is not optional, nor is it a luxury,” he said. “There’s no substitute for face to face, hand to hand and heart to heart meetings.”