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Adventure Cycling Association gets a seat on new federal Travel and Tourism Committee

Published December 20, 2016
Committee will try to get travel and tourism projects included in Trump's infrastructure plans.

WASHINGTON (BRAIN) — Amongst the airport and port authority executives, convention center operators and regional tourism officials participating in a new national committee on travel and tourism, cycling and bicycle touring have a voice: Jim Sayer, executive director of the Adventure Cycling Association.

The committee was established by last year's Surface Transportation Bill and appointed by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx; it met for the first time Dec. 8-9 at the Federal Aviation Administration headquarters in Washington.

Sayer said this week that there's no guarantee that any spending specific to bike travel will come of his position on the committee, the National Advisory Committee on Travel and Tourism Infrastructure. But he said at its first meeting the committee members agreed on a short-term goal of trying to get some travel and tourism projects included in the increased infrastructure spending that President-elect Trump has said is a top priority at the start of his presidency.

"We'd love to get something in there," Sayer told BRAIN.

In the longer term, the committee will focus a broader vision for why travel and tourism infrastructure matters, what it is, and a long-term investment plan.

"Some of the investments would be stand-alone (tourism-specific) but some could dovetail with everyday transport infrastructure projects," Sayer said. "We will also likely weigh in on funding mechanisms — how to use or expand existing or develop others — and the potential impacts of new technologies — like autonomous vehicles. I also put in a plug for e-bikes, which they hadn't thought of either."

The committee's mission is to "assist the U.S. Department of Transportation and advise the Secretary of Transportation on current and emerging priorities, issues, projects, and funding needs relating to the use of the intermodal transportation network of the U.S."

The 25 committee members are "heavy hitters in the tourism industry," Sayer said, including Rossi Ralenkotter, the president & CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, who is the committee's chairman. Other members are Mitchell Landrieu, the Mayor of new Orleans and Joseph Lopano, the CEO of Tampa International Airport. (Full list of committee members)

"A lot of focus, as you'd expect, is on things like ports and airports, plus surface connectors, but quite a few committee members are interested in active travel, cycling facilities, trails and how they contribute to the tourism bottom line. Plus they're less expensive, meaning you get more bang for the buck," Sayer said.

While bike advocates from PeopleForBikes and League of American Bicyclists regularly lobby in Washington for bike transportation infrastructure, it is more unusual for bicycle touring interests, specifically, to get a voice in Washington. The Adventure Cycling Association does not employ a Washington lobbyist, Sayer said, though it does add its members' voices in support of federal transportation legislation.

While the priorities of the various bike associations clearly overlap, bicycle tourism's focus can be be more rural and suburban, while the other groups are more focused on urban projects specific to transportation needs rather than recreational needs, Sayer said.

However, something like the U.S. Bicycle Route System, which Adventure Cycling has supported, is an example of a project that benefits travel and tourism specifically and connects cities and countryside, Sayer noted. "We'll see where it goes, especially with the new administration, but this will be an interesting and potentially potent venue to advocate for cycling and active travel investments, in networks like the US Bicycle Route System." The route system, now 11,563 miles long, has received no direct federal support to date, he said.

While the U.S. bicycle retail industry had a tough year, with bike sales down 8 percent at last report, bike tourism is a bright spot, with suppliers reporting increased sales of touring and adventure bikes and touring gear. Sayer said membership in the ACA hit an all-time high of 51,200 this year, the group's 40th anniversary. Participation in the group's events is up and new events like Bike Your Park Day and National Bike Travel Weekend were well received this year. 

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