January 9, 2024

We are both delighted and honored to have a legend in our industry joining us for our 200th podcast episode!

Geoff Freeman is the President and CEO of the US Travel Association. He is with us today to share his perspective on leadership and explore the strategic use of data in shaping the future of the travel industry.

Get ready for an insightful conversation with a phenomenal leader. You will not want to miss this episode which is packed with valuable insights and wisdom from a true industry champion.

Geoff’s Journey

Geoff’s Washington journey spans 26 years. He spent most of that time working in various industries, including health insurance, pharmaceuticals, and travel. He joined the US Travel Industry Association in 2006 and has contributed significantly to initiatives like Brand USA and TSA PreCheck. He joined the American Gaming Association, where he successfully advocated for having the federal ban on sports betting removed. After leaving to navigate challenges in the consumer packaged goods industry during the pandemic, Geoff returned to his passion for travel, where he currently leads the US Travel Association. He is excited about the industry’s potential and looks forward to shaping its future agenda in the years ahead.

The Origin of TSA PreCheck

The TSA PreCheck program was an initiative created to help overcome the inefficiencies and frustrations faced by travelers at TSA checkpoints around 2010. Recognizing the need for change, Geoff understood the importance of proactive problem-solving and the industry’s role in collaborating with experts to develop a blueprint for a more effective system. The success of initiatives like Brand USA and Global Entry reinforced the potential for positive change, ultimately leading to the establishment of TSA PreCheck. Geoff credits the courage of individuals like John Pistole, the then-administrator of TSA, for embracing a different approach and making the program a rare win-win for travelers and the industry.

Challenges in Visa Processing

Geoff points out that the lengthy waiting times for visa interviews in countries like Mexico, Colombia, and India deter potential travelers. He emphasizes the need for a more efficient and timely visa processing system and the importance of coordinating efforts across different government departments to create a more competitive and traveler-friendly visa system.

The Impact of Delays and Cancellations

Geoff highlights the impact of delays and cancellations on travelers, attributing those issues to understaffing, outdated technology, and inadequate infrastructure. He believes that significant investments in technology, staffing, and infrastructure are needed to improve the overall efficiency of the aviation system. He urges travelers to become more demanding and less accommodating, pointing out the importance of having an aviation system that can meet the growing demands of post-pandemic travel.

The Future of the Travel Industry

Addressing the future of the travel industry, Geoff provides insights into different segments, distinguishing between leisure travel, international inbound travel, and group/transient business travel. While leisure travel has been relatively strong, he sees signs of it plateauing and explains the importance of understanding the nuances within each segment. He underscores the need for the travel industry to prove the return on investment for group and transient business travel, advocating for more research to demonstrate the value of those activities.

A Renewed Focus on the Group Market

Geoff explains that US Travel has renewed its focus on the group market, hiring a dedicated head of group travel to work on a strategic agenda that will contribute to the industry’s growth and resilience.

The Effort Needed to Prove the Value of Travel

Geoff highlights the ongoing effort needed to prove the essential nature and value of the travel industry and the need for the industry to break through the mindset that often perceives the travel industry as less noble than other sectors.

The Importance of Research

Geoff highlights the importance of research and communication to ensure that policymakers and the general public fully understand and appreciate the value of the travel industry.

Strategic Focus on the Group Market

Geoff has a clearly defined intention within US Travel to protect and grow the group market. He anticipates a cohesive effort within the group segment, with various initiatives aligned to champion its merits in ways not seen in recent years. His commitment to tangible evidence and a strategic agenda shows the importance of revitalizing the group travel sector and promoting its significance within the broader travel industry.

Resilience of the Travel Industry

Geoff is optimistic about the resilience of the travel industry, particularly with the extraordinary demand for travel post-pandemic. Despite uncertainties regarding goods purchasing and other services, he believes the travel industry will continue to thrive. His confidence stems from his belief that what the travel industry offers aligns with evolving consumer desires and preferences.

Bio:

As president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, Geoff Freeman is the leading advocate for the $1.1 trillion U.S. travel and hospitality industry.

In this role, Freeman is charged with ensuring the industry’s full recovery from COVID-19, positioning the industry to seize emerging opportunities in a post-pandemic market environment, and further establishing travel as a vital economic force in the United States.

Freeman is a seasoned association CEO with a proven track record of building successful organizations that unite member interests, grow member value, increase revenue, and unlock growth opportunities. Before joining U.S. Travel, Freeman was president and CEO of the Consumer Brands Association, the trade association for America’s $2.1 trillion food, beverage, and consumer products industry. During his tenure, Freeman launched a strategic campaign to transform the association into a powerful, modern advocacy organization to drive growth and deliver sound regulatory and legislative outcomes that benefit industry leaders and consumers. He also grew membership by 35 percent and boosted total revenue by nearly 50 percent.

Freeman joined the Consumer Brands Association after serving five years as President and CEO of the American Gaming Association (AGA). In that role, Freeman led a successful effort to reform and modernize the AGA, build public support for the gaming industry, and open new pathways for industry growth. Under his leadership, the AGA spearheaded a multi-year, research-driven campaign to demonstrate gaming’s broad support across the political spectrum and promote the industry’s role in spurring economic growth, job creation, and tax revenues in communities across more than 40 states where gaming is legal. That campaign created the tailwinds needed to advance AGA’s signature initiative achieved under Freeman – the legalization of sports betting in the United States. While leading AGA, Freeman drove a 200 percent increase in membership and doubled association revenue.

Freeman previously served as COO of the U.S. Travel Association from 2011 to 2013, helping to conceive and lead a campaign that resulted in the passage of the bipartisan Travel Promotion Act, which was hailed as “the industry’s biggest legislative victory in a decade.” In the aftermath of 9/11, Freeman created a blue-ribbon panel headed by former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, to analyze how to improve travel security without compromising travel efficiency. This effort led directly to the creation of TSA PreCheck. Both the Travel Promotion Act and TSA PreCheck demonstrate Freeman’s ability to identify industry opportunities, craft a winning policy response, and drive campaigns that succeed in gaining broad support among diverse stakeholders.

Freeman’s previous experience includes roles at APCO Worldwide, America’s Health Insurance Plans, and Freddie Mac.

A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, Freeman lives in Arlington, Va., with his wife and three children.

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About the author 

Eric Rozenberg

For two decades, Eric Rozenberg has consulted with Fortune 500 companies and produced conferences in more than 50 countries across diverse industries. His focus is creating meetings that are not only breathtakingly memorable but which bring corporate strategies to life and amplify team motivation/performance.

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