CEO has led organization since 2005 and continues to advocate for industry financially devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic
July 22, 2021
By Walt Williams
Roger Dow will retire from the U.S. Travel Association in July 2022 after agreeing to stay at the trade group for another year and as the travel industry recovers from its most challenging period in recent history.
Dow announced his upcoming retirement July 21. U.S. Travel’s board of directors agreed to extend his contract until the middle of next year and will form a search committee in the coming months to find his successor, according to an association statement.
In an interview with CEO Update, Dow said he originally intended to step down near the end of 2020 but then COVID-19 hit. He eventually settled on the 2022 date to give his family a definite end date and give the association time to plan a transition.
“I couldn’t look in the mirror and say I walked away from the travel industry in the middle of this crisis we’re going through,” he said. “I think it's going to be fun and challenging but important to shepherd (the association) through for the next year.”
Dow acknowledged the COVID-19 pandemic had taken a toll on U.S. Travel, which has shrunk from more than 70 employees pre-pandemic to about 50 today. The crisis has had an even more devastating impact on the travel industry as a whole, but the CEO remains optimistic about its future. He watched the industry spring back after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Great Recession.
“I’m not a Pollyanna, but I believe it is going to come back much stronger,” he said. “Leisure is already back, in some cases exceeding 2019. Now the challenge is bringing back business travel, meetings and events, and most importantly, international (travel).”
Dow has led the association since 2005. The CEO is a U.S. Army veteran who received a Bronze Star during his service in Vietnam. He previously spent 34 years at Marriott International, rising to senior vice president of global and field sales. He told CEO Update in a 2010 interview that he didn’t know much about the association when he was first approached by a recruiter about the job and was skeptical, but was won over by the chance to make a difference for the industry he had dedicated most of his adult life to up to that point.
U.S. Travel credits Dow’s leadership for series of policy victories, including securing COVID-19 pandemic-related relief for the travel industry and helping secure funding for national parks. Dow and the association were instrumental in the establishment and renewal of Brand USA, a program launched in 2011 that markets the U.S. as a travel destination in foreign markets. The association also helped launch the Meetings Mean Business Coalition, which advocates on behalf of face-to-face meetings.
Much of U.S. Travel’s recent work has focused on supporting a travel industry devastated by the pandemic. Last year the association oversaw the creation of the Let’s Go There Coalition to encourage the public to resume leisure travel.
As for the association itself, U.S. Travel closed 2019 and 2020 with strong reserves, Dow said. Membership is also rebounding faster than he had anticipated.
“Saying goodbye to one person is tough. Saying goodbye to a third of your staff who are doing a great job and saying, ‘We have no business, we have no revenue,’ that’s one of the toughest things in the world,” he said. “We’re looking forward to getting our team rebuilt.”
U.S. Travel didn’t provide many details about the process it would use to choose Dow’s successor other than it would be “transparent and inclusive.” The association’s current board chair is Carnival Cruise Line President Christine Duffy, who previously was CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association.