Chaired by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Ranking Member Mel Martinez (R-FL), of the Subcommittee on Competitiveness, Innovation and Export Promotion of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, the hearings opened with comments by Senator Harry Reid, (D-NV), Senate Majority Leader.
Reid stressed the economic contributions of the travel and tourism industry, its ability to create jobs and its crucial importance to Nevada’s economy. “Nevada depends on tourism,” Reed said, praising the performance of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau (LVCVB), but warning of shortfalls in travel that is costing the state and the city jobs, revenues and tax income.
The Travel Promotion Act also earned strong support from Klobuchar and Martinez as well as from Senators John Ensign (R-NV) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND) who urged bipartisan Congressional support for passage of the act this year. Both see the benefits of increased international travel to the U.S.
The hearings included testimony from top travel professionals, including: Mary Saunders, deputy assistant secretary of the Department of Commerce; Jay Witzel, president and CEO of Carlson Hotels; Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts; and Sam Gilliland, chairman and CEO of Travelocity/Sabre Holdings.
Disney’s Rasulo underscored the need for a government/private sector partnership that will make the U.S. competitive with other travel destinations and stem losses from a decline in international visitors. He urged aggressive promotion of the U.S. abroad and stressed the need for balancing security needs with ease of entry. “The entry process must make international visitors welcome.”
Sabre Holdings Gilliland noted the progress the industry was making in energy conservation and urged action on air traffic control systems now pending before Congress. Gilliland also said that unfounded criticism of business travel had a paralyzing impact on the industry and demand. He also urged support for the Travel Promotion Act. Travel is good for jobs, Gilliland said, and travelers will benefit from low prices and travel deals now being offered by the industry.
Carlson’s Witzel stressed the importance of face-to-face meetings and personal contact to American business and urged a change in language in Washington and the media about business travel. He also urged Treasury Department support for unified guidelines on business, meetings and convention travel.
"Today's Senate hearing underscores the travel industry's significance as an economic generator across America and as a leading service export," U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow commented. "The travel industry generates more than 17 million jobs - that is one in eight American workers - and is a top industry in nearly all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Building on more than 40 rallies that took place nationwide during yesterday's inaugural Travel Rally Day, champions such as Senators Klobuchar and Martinez are helping our country better understand travel's unique ability to stimulate our economy in these tough financial times.
"Recently, airlines, hotels, theme parks, destinations and many others in the travel industry have been slammed with a down economy, unnecessary criticism of business meetings and events and, most recently, the swine flu outbreak," Dow continued. "Given these obstacles, it is more important than ever that the Administration, Congress, state and local officials and the travel industry work together to encourage travel to and within the United States.
"International travel to the United States is down 10 percent year to date and is not expected to improve in 2009," Dow added. "Yesterday's reintroduction of the Travel Promotion Act, sponsored by Senators Dorgan (D-ND) and Ensign (R-NV), is an important step to help America recapture millions of lost visitors, create new jobs and stimulate the American economy.”
Also slated to appear were Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority; Chad Prosser, director of the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism; and Judy Zehnder Keller of the Bavarian Inn Lodge
As one example of the economic benefits of travel Prosser said, “Tourism is South Carolina's largest single industry, accounting for 12.6 percent of the state's total employment and about $17.2 billion in annual sales. Globally, it's the fourth-largest export industry in the world.
"Tourism expenditures were over $157 Billion to the Travel South USA region in 2007, accounting for roughly 21 percent of all tourism expenditures in the USA," Prosser continued. "The region is estimated to attract over 400 Million visitors every year, representing an estimated 45 percent of total visitor volume for the United States. Southern tourism also generates direct employment of 1.84 Million jobs in the region and provides $24.2 Billion in national, state and local taxes. It is an important, vibrant industry and part of the solution to assist the balance of trade.”
For more information on National Travel and Tourism Week or Travel Rally Day, visit www.ustravel.org. For more information on U.S. Travel's Meetings Mean Business travel advocacy campaign and the "Faces of Travel" contest, visit www.meetingsmeanbusiness.com.