Editor’s Note: Connecting the Dots is a series of monthly conversations with Michael Dominguez, President and CEO of Associated Luxury Hotels International. The series examines issues in the global economy in 2024 that will “connect the dots” to be helpful not only in business but in life as well. In this installment, Tim Altbaum, Founder and CEO at Vario, a full-service A/V and production company, sat down with Mike to discuss complications around group and leisure travel. Altbaum is president-elect of the MPI DFW Chapter, a former board member of NACE, and holds CSEP, CMP, HMCC and CMM designations.  


Tim Altbaum: If I'm a consumer, I want to take my family to Europe this summer, or I've got folks that want to come visit me, overall, how does that affect the travel industry? What are you seeing as far as travel out versus travel in? You got the Olympics coming up, tell me a little bit about all that. 



Michael Dominguez: There's some interesting dynamics going on. We have more outbound international travel than inbound, and that's still upside down. We're still short 20 some odd percent of where we were in 2019 of international visitors coming in, so we need that to right size. Surprisingly, the No. 1 benefactor of U.S. outbound international travel has been the Caribbean. I thought it would have been Europe, and Europe's No. 2, but it is the Caribbean that is leading that charge. When I look at that growth versus 2019, I also don't know how much of that is nuanced that Baha Mar wasn't open at that time. Now it is, and is that changing the number a little bit from a percentage opportunity anyway? But in Europe this summer, I don't think we're looking at it enough. I saw a report that actually shows it's almost a doubling, tripling of room rates for Paris during the Olympics during this timeframe. If you look at it, it dwarfs, I mean, it literally makes or dwarfs and overrides what we saw in (Las) Vegas during the Super Bowl, as far as that increase, so it's a dramatic pop in rates. The reason I think that matters is summertime is holiday season for Europe. Paris is a very popular destination, as we all know. You're going to have Europeans push that travel into other parts of Europe, which means we're going to have compression all over Europe. You're going to have rate increases all over Europe. It's going to make Europe expensive, and candidly, if we're lucky, we might be a benefactor of that because there might be some people that stay home this year and literally travel in the United States just because it's more expensive to travel internationally. That might be a good thing when it's all said and done. I also think some short-term travel internationally, if you're looking at incentive business, Europe's going to become really expensive to be able to try to get there and if you have all of that outbound travel from around the world, flights are going to be expensive as well during that timeframe. 


Altbaum: That's actually a great point. So, you talk about leisure travelers and going to Europe with their families, like I talked about, but we also have to talk about incentive trips, groups, and other folks who are coming for meetings. Those European-based companies and planners may actually be looking at other markets outside of Europe because it may actually be less expensive, if you look at the overall to travel out versus where they would normally stay in. Is that kind of something you'd see as well?  


Connecting the dots


Dominguez: Without a doubt and our biggest challenge in that regard is we still have a visa issue. I just had a call last week with a client because they have been avoiding the United States for the last 18 months because they have a large Indian contingency and 43% of everyone who travels to the United States still needs a visa. It's still 400 days plus to get a visa. 


Altbaum: So, we're talking over a year just to get a visa to come? 


Dominguez: In certain parts of the world and that's a challenge, and that is something we have to correct. The beauty is (U.S. Travel Association) has been working hard on this issue and they've actually set up a program so that we can connect those group organizers with the U.S. Travel Association so that they can fast-track those visas that are needed for these types of big events.  


Past Reports 

May: International Trade, Geopolitical Upheaval  

April: How Does an Election Cycle Impact Meeting Industry 

March: How Supply, Demand Impact Travel, Hotels, Meetings 

February: Global Economy Mostly Good News for Hotel Industry 

January: New ALHI Series to Examine Key Global Issues 


Altbaum: Wait times have actually gotten a little bit better on the group side.  


Dominguez: Absolutely, and wait times are getting better but not fast enough overall. But on the group side, we have a fast-track so that people don't have to avoid planning for the United States. They just need some positivity, or some guarantees that we can get your visa processed in time for your meeting that's coming up in nine months. That we can get handled now. 


Altbaum: Well, we've covered quite a few topics. I'm exhausted. 


In July: Deficits and CEO Confidence