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At the end of November, Outdoor Industry Association will have a new voice in Washington, D.C. to help press forward the industry’s increasingly demanding agenda on trade and land conservation.
Patricia Rojas-Ungár, OIA’s VP of government affairs, comes from the U.S. Travel Association, where she was VP of public affairs. She spent a decade shaping the association’s agenda and working on issues directly with Congress and the White House. She will leverage that experience to assist in the passage of several of OIA’s key initiatives starting immediately during the lame-duck session of Congress.
Top priority: “We’ll focus on getting LWCF across the finish line,” Rojas-Ungár said. The Land and Water Conservation Fund provides federal money to state and local communities for conservation projects, but lapsed on Sept. 30. The industry’s trade agenda is also a priority, as the Trump administration continues to levy tariffs on both the materials the industry uses and the goods it makes.
There’s a lot of common ground between the outdoor and travel worlds, and Rojas-Ungár will bring a lot of relationships with her to the industry. That was one of the main reasons OIA’s board selected her, said Amy Roberts, the organization’s executive director.
“[We have] an opportunity to build coalitions with partners we haven’t [worked with] before,” Roberts said. “For me, that was one of the most compelling conversations the board had in selecting Patricia—thinking through what she brings in terms of new bedfellows. A lot of work in Washington gets done because of your partnerships. Sometimes, members of Congress and the administration also take note of unlikely partnerships.”
Rojas-Ungár’s list of accomplishments in the travel industry is long and significant. For example, at the U.S. Travel Association successfully lobbied for the passage of the Travel Promotion Act, which resulted in the creation of what’s known today as Brand USA, the official United States destination marking organization for international visitors. She also worked with the State and Commerce Departments to minimize hassles for visitors from China and increase the number of visas available. The number of Chinese visitors to America grew from about half a million in 2009 to nearly 3 million today. In 2016, Chinese visitors—for whom visiting national parks here is a priority—spent roughly $33 billion traveling to the U.S.
National parks are just one area of common ground for the travel and outdoor industries. “Having spent 10 years working with members in every single state in the country, I have established relationships with the state tourism directors, with convention and visitors bureaus, and with brands,” Rojas-Ungár added.
She plans to work on educating elected officials about the value outdoor recreation has in the U.S. “Obviously, we have the data to back it up,” she said. “But that also entails demonstrating it directly by hosting [elected officials] in their state and having them do tours of businesses and see employees working day in and day out in this industry.”
And as the new Congress gets to work in 2019, the outdoor industry is in a good position, Roberts said. Of the 23 candidates OIA endorsed in the midterm elections, 20 won their races.
Rojas-Ungár also plans to work on getting industry leaders and members of Congress more engaged. To do so, she’ll rely on the normal tools of influence in D.C., but then there’s also the industry’s greatest power. “The engagement of the consumer in the outdoor space is a real asset for this industry,” she said.
This article was originally published in Day 3 of The Daily (Winter Market 2018).