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JIM SANTINI

National Tour Association Industry Wide and Association Specific Recommendations To
2006 SATH 10th World Congress on the State of the Travel Industry

By
James D. Santini
Legislative Counsel
National Tour Association


Fellow Panelists and Congress Delegates,

I sure wish I was in Miami with all of you to share my thoughts in person. A fractured right ankle, foot and Doctor's orders make that impossible. So, I will do my best in writing to respond to your moderator, Jim Smith's discussion guideposts. While I am just a rookie member of the disabled team, Ann and I have been in the league for 37 years with our spinabifida son Mark. Over this time span, for Mom and me, Mark's remarkable courage and our innumerable access challenges have produced a life changing appreciation for all disabled travelers. This first hand experience is why, in 1981, I appointed SATH founder Murry Vidockler to my first Congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus advisory board, where he served well and ably for many years. This lifetime experience is why I jumped at Stuart Vidockler's invitation to share the NTA tour operator perspective on the industry wide and industry specific travel/tourism issues. That was my last jump, for now I will not be jumping for several weeks. Your moderator, Jim Smith, should be commended for assembling this dynamic panel that is speaking to you today. In absolute truth, there is so much industry experience and talent sharing their comments, it is virtually impossible for me to avoid being redundant. But, that fact never stopped this retired Congressman before and it won't stop me today. Industry wide, as my fellow panelists have observed, there are significant challenges facing the travel and tourism industry in 2006. How are these critical issues for starters? The continuing high fuel costs, on-going risks from terrorism, after effects of '05 hurricanes, rising airline costs and bankruptcies, impractical passport regulations, the continuing drumbeat about avian flu. This is a formidable array of real or possible adversities as we enter into 2006. But, not withstanding all those negatives, most travel/tourism prognosticators are projecting generally good news ahead for the traveler and the industry. In the near term, a winter travel survey by Travel Industry of America's CEO and president Roger Dow concludes that "travelers are far more confident about taking a winter trip- up 2.4% to 202.6 million travelers" (Travel Weekly, Jan. 2, 2006). In 2006 domestic trip volume should increase by an estimated 2.8%, down from 3.0% in 2005. This decline is attributed to a "fall-off in leisure travel among middle and lower income households" (James V. Cammisa, Dec.13, 2005). For 2006. NTA president Hank Phillips concludes, "I am confident in predicting that it will be another solid business year. The simple fact is that people still want to travel and increasingly they are gravitating to the core benefits tour and packages offer- convenience, affordability and security" (Courier, Jan. 2006). For the physically challenged/disabled traveler, NTA conducted a recent survey that both looked back to early '90s and asked selected tour operators to share their marketplace experience. I offer the highlight response from NTA's Americans with Disability Act point person from the early '90s to present day, Mike Neustadt, Coach Tours.

From my standpoint (tour operator doing short motor coach tours) this is no longer a hot issue. Since the new regulations affecting motor coach travel went into effect, we have been able to accommodate all requests for accessible buses. In addition, with the help of the Easter Seals Project ACTION, we have trained our employees to provide service to all customers with disabilities. In fact, I have found that having accessible buses and a trained staff has been a positive for my business and we have attracted new business because of it.

As you may remember, I became the go-to guy for some NTA tour operators when this started.I received a bunch of questions of the do-I-really-have-to-do-that variety. My answer was usually "'yes" along with some suggestions as to how to accommodate customers with disabilities. The number of these questions have fallen to almost zero. I believe it is because our members are now aware of their responsibilities and, more importantly, they are prepared to provide good customer service to all our passengers. (Mike Neustadt)

But, most respondents also acknowledged that issues remain, E.g in another transportation mode, the US Department of Transportation's first evaluation of disability complaints (10,193) related to the airlines in 2004, about two thirds involved wheelchairs. About 17 million disabled passengers fly each year. This is a basic concern for all segments of the travel industry. There is no doubt that the airlines (like the tour operators and motor coach owners) have grown more responsive to the needs of the disabled traveler. That is because education has permeated almost all levels of the nation's transportation systems. With knowledge comes the ability to make the necessary changes to insure that we reach the goal of a barrier free or compensation for travel experience. NTA pledges to continue to work with ABA and all segments of the nation's transportation industry to enhance the travel experience of every disabled traveler.