Effective Lobbying on the Hill and at Home: An Interview with U.S. Travel's Michael Jacobson

Destination Marketing Organizations occupy the unique place of acting as the connective tissue between members of your communities, along with visitors from beyond. One key aspect of our work in travel and tourism is the opportunity to advocate for the continued success of this industry.

Advocacy works on many levels, whether on Capitol Hill or in your own back yard, so we're taking time with Michael Jacobson, U.S. Travel's Director of Grassroots Advocacy and Political Action Committee, to share some effective ways of lobbying for our cause at Destination Capitol Hill and beyond.

Meeting with Members of Congress (MOC) is an important way to shape their perspective and position on the issue of travel and tourism in the United States. Can you explain how face-to-face meetings with MOCs and their staff in Washington differ from say, phone calls or letters? 

When it comes to grassroots advocacy, the term Meetings Mean Business couldn’t apply more. Personalized letters and phone calls to Congressional office are certainly helpful in advancing our cause on Capitol Hill.

This was evident during the recent effort to reauthorize Brand USA, when we generated thousands of emails and phone calls to Congress. However, they pale in comparison to an in-person meeting, regardless of whether that meeting takes place in Washington or in their district office back home.

It’s important that Members of Congress and their staff get to know the tourism leaders in their community and hear, in-person, about our industry’s position on key legislative topics. There is nothing more useful than having an elected official begin to recognize your face and identify you as a trusted resource when it comes to travel policies. 

What would you say are the top 3 factors to a successful meeting with a MOC and their staff? 

The three top factors are known as hook, line, and sinker.

1.    Hook: A brief introduction of yourself and why travel matters to you personally.
2.    Line: Sharing one key stat or story that shows the local impact of our issues. This would be a great opportunity to relay how many jobs are supported locally by tourism.
3.    Sinker: Being able to clearly state our unified ask, which will be provided in the talking points for all attendees. 

Travel is often considered just “fun” on Capitol Hill. But our respective organizations have a uniquely positive economic story to tell. What are some of the key statistics advocates should use when talking to elected officials? 

Our industry has a relatively unique ability to “brag” about our recent economic successes and it is crucial that we share this story with our nation’s leaders. Travel is a primary driver of economic growth and job creation in the United States. In 2015, domestic travelers took nearly 2.2 billion trips—an increase of 3.3 percent from 2014—the fastest rise in more than a decade. The U.S. also welcomed an impressive 77.5 million international visitors in 2015. Together, these travelers generated $2.1 trillion in output for the U.S. economy. Nationwide, 15.1 million Americans—one in nine private-sector jobs—depend on travel for their livelihood. Travel is a top-10 employer in 49 states and the District of Columbia. And unlike jobs in manufacturing or information technology, travel jobs cannot be easily outsourced or moved overseas.
And while our elected officials continue to find new ways to boost the economy without raising taxes on Americans, we do just that. This is because when international travelers visit and spend money in our destinations, that’s actually considered an export.

Tourism continues to fuel the United States’ export growth, growing far quicker than many other industries. All of these national trends are obviously positive, but what is most important is highlighting your own local success story and making it personal. That is what will help you be remembered once you walk out your legislator’s door.