Last Modified: Saturday, November 29, 2008 at 9:15 p.m.
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 Barack Obama was one of the early signatories of that legislation. Sen. McCain opposed such use of federal power, and now there is no doubt that a nationally supported organization for promoting travel to the U.S. will be launched.
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 Sen. 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 President-elect 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 candidate 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 U.S. without first obtaining expensive visas. During the campaign, Sen. 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.
[ Arthur Frommer is a travel guide, author and columnist. ]