The Travel Promotion Act, introduced this week, won a strong endorsement from Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, who testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Competitiveness, Innovation, and Export Promotion of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation. Rasulo said the Act would create a public-private entity that could speak with the authority of the U.S. government to tell the world, “We want you to visit.”
“It would work to reverse widespread negative perceptions that the U.S. is unwelcoming to overseas travelers," Rasulo told the Committee. "And it would complement and augment our nation’s public diplomacy efforts: We know from research that those who have visited the U.S. are 74% more likely to have an extremely favorable opinion of America than those who haven’t traveled here.
“This new entity would combine the expertise of the private sector with the oversight and coordination of the federal government," he continued. "It would serve as the primary voice for all travel-related policies. It would coordinate our national strategies to maximize the benefits of travel to America. And it would ensure that international travel benefits all 50 states and the District of Columbia, including areas not traditionally visited by foreigners.
“We are only asking the United States to establish what nearly every other major foreign market already has: a nationally coordinated and well-funded travel promotion campaign. To give you an idea of just how competitive the overseas travel market has become: Greece and Mexico each spend $150 million a year on promotion campaigns to attract travelers; China spends $60 million; France, Germany, Italy and the UK spend a combined $250 million,” Rasulo told the Senate Committee.
“It is important to point out that in these times when the Congress is understandably wary of new spending, the Travel Promotion Act would use no taxpayer dollars," he continued. "Instead, it would be funded through a small fee collected from overseas visitors, combined with matching funds from the travel industry. This isn’t a free ride for industry. We will be contributing our fair share to make it work.”
After noting that overseas visitors spend an estimated $4,500 per person when they come to the U.S., Rasulo told the committee that “if arrivals had kept pace with global trends since 2001, that would have totaled $182 billion in spending. That’s enough to support 245,000 jobs. Moreover, the added revenue generated by those visits would have yielded $27 billion in tax receipts.”
Rasulo said that Disney is already contributing, noting that Walt Disney Parks and Resorts funded and produced a $2.5 million video to welcome overseas travelers to the U.S., which was donated to the government. The video is shown at several of the nation’s busiest airports, at 105 American consulate and embassy offices around the world and on some airlines.
Rasulo also urged three key points on the Committee, including a secure, but user-friendly, visa process. “We applaud Congress for expanding the Visa Waiver Program, but for those travelers requiring a visa, the system needs to be more efficient and easier to navigate—while continuing to put America’s security first." He also said the U.S. needed to continue making the entry process a more positive experience—something that is already starting to happen thanks to the Model Ports program to improve our nation’s busiest airports.
Rasulo concluded his testimony saying the most work remains in promoting the U.S. abroad. “We need to tell the world about the improvements we have made to the entry process. We need to invite international travelers to visit the United States," he said. "We need to tell them that they are welcome here.”