Washington, D.C., can be a hard place to get things done, even though what happens, or fails to happen, there can have a major impact on our company, our industry, our country and our world.

As many of you know, I spend quite a bit of time in our nation’s capital with our government affairs team, advocating for policies that will help Sabre and the broader travel and tourism industry succeed. These efforts can be frustrating work for someone like me, who is impatient to see progress on obvious problems that can’t wait to be solved. However, I’ve also learned that persistence pays off and that building relationships in Washington can bring great rewards when the inevitable opportunities arise.

We’ve cultivated some fine relationships in Washington, and one of the best of those is with the U.S. Department of Commerce. Let me share a bit more about the many aspects of this extraordinarily productive relationship with this Cabinet department.

The ambitious mission of the Commerce Department is to “promote job creation and improved living standards for all Americans by creating an infrastructure that promotes economic growth, technological competitiveness and sustainable development.”

The department helps make American businesses more productive at home and more competitive abroad. For Sabre, Commerce Department officials have arranged meetings, opened doors, spoken out on our behalf, knocked down barriers and taken many other actions that have helped strengthen our business and our industry.

They’ve also given Sabre some cool opportunities to help them with their own mission. Let me share a few examples:

  • The department’s Advocacy Center helps create export opportunities for U.S. companies. They’ve specifically helped Sabre Airline Solutions make inroads with foreign, government-owned airlines around the world. The Advocacy Center is staffed with regional professionals in Washington who are gatekeepers to foreign commercial service officers resident in U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. These U.S. government officials can help us understand and navigate the business climate in a country and arrange meetings with local government and private sector entities.
  • Foreign commercial service officers and U.S. ambassadors have opened their embassies to our customers and helped us make a positive impression. A few years ago, the U.S. Embassy in Uruguay held a memorable event at the ambassador’s residence when we brought a contingent of Sabre Travel Network customers to Montevideo to see our contact center operations there. It was a highlight of their trip.
  • The Commerce Department also helps knock down trade barriers. For more than a dozen years, the department has been urging China on our behalf to open up its closed global distribution systems (GDS) market. Progress has been slow and much more work needs to be done, but last year the Chinese ministry of transportation, the CAAC, adopted new regulations that open the door a crack to companies like ours. Foreign GDSs such as Sabre will be able to operate in China if they are sponsored by foreign airlines for the purpose of arranging international air travel. It’s a small but potentially significant step forward.
  • The Commerce Department invites us from time to time to participate in trade missions they organize for U.S. companies. These delegations are frequently led by the Secretary of Commerce or other high-ranking government official. They are designed to develop opportunities for U.S. companies to do more business abroad and to facilitate relationships between the U.S. and its trading partners. We recently participated in a trade mission to Algeria, UAE, Sri Lanka and India.
  • Because the Commerce Department is the focal point in the U.S. government for travel and tourism policy, they led the way in preparing President Obama’s National Travel and Tourism Strategy. The U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, which I vice-chair after being appointed by the Secretary of Commerce, had significant input into this strategy. It’s been fulfilling to make policy recommendations and see the government take action – from implementing expedited airport security screening initiatives to streamlining the visa application process to enter the United States, and much more. International travel numbers broke all-time records in 2012, and this public-private partnership has resulted in real change for the good of the travel industry and for travelers everywhere.
  • The Secretary of Commerce also appointed Tom Klein, Sabre’s president, to the board of BrandUSA, and this organization – another public-private partnership – is making significant strides in promoting the United States as a travel destination to the rest of the world. Attracting more visitors and the dollars they will spend here will help create jobs and fuel our nation’s economy. BrandUSA is the first-ever nationwide effort to promote the entire country, all without cost to American taxpayers.

I’m grateful to the Commerce Department for all they do and the outstanding relationships we’ve had with successive secretaries, including former Acting Secretary Rebecca Blank. She is a fine leader, and I appreciate her commitment to the success of the travel and tourism sector.

Our work with Commerce has also created opportunities to engage the highest levels of leadership at other government departments, such as Homeland Security, Transportation, State and the Office of Management and Budget.

In my next post, I’ll talk more about my views on how the public-private partnerships I mentioned are creating opportunities for Sabre and our industry.