Latest Commerce Department Travel Forecast Sparks Call for Reform

airlineSince travel already supports one out of every eight American jobs, the Commerce Department's forecast of continued robust growth in travel demand is terrific news for the ongoing economic recovery, says U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow

Dow issued a statement in response to the release of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s biennial Travel and Tourism Forecast:

“But that bright outlook comes with a very serious caveat: both on the ground and in the skies, our transportation modes and facilities are already operating at or above capacity, and are not equipped to bear the expected new spike in traveler volume,” Dow said. ”In particular, our Customs and Border Protection entry process is woefully under-resourced to cope even with existing levels of inbound international travel.”

The evidence, Dow said, ”very definitively shows that when travel is a hassle because of congestion, delays or other headaches, potential travelers to the U.S. either decide to go elsewhere or simply stay home.”

If the U.S. is going to reap the economic benefits that would come from full realization of the Commerce Department's forecast, Congress should pass the travel facilitation measures in the bipartisan JOLT Act, Dow said. Congress should also as embark on a focused national discussion about how to properly invest in U.S. transportation infrastructure.

The call for better infrastructure follows the recent industry opposition to the hike in the Aviation Passenger Security Fee. The increase, which is part of a proposed Congressional budget deal, drew opposition from U.S. Travel and the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA). 

RELATED: Who Should Pay for Airline Security?

The Commerce Department forecast, a twice-yearly report produced by the International Trade Administration that predicts the number of international travelers that will visit the United States during the next five years, shows that the United States can expect four percent average annual growth in tourism through 2018, and that nearly 72 million foreign travelers are projected to visit the United States in 2014 alone.

This strong forecast follows three consecutive visitor volume records set in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Total visitor volume for 2013 is expected to be up 3 percent from 2012, which would set a fourth-straight record.

“Travel and tourism to the United States continues to break new records, boosting our exports and helping strengthen our economy,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. “The Obama Administration has made promotion of travel and tourism a key priority of our economic growth agenda. The results have been very positive: travel and tourism continues to be a bright spot in our economy, contributing nearly 3 percent to GDP in 2012 and supporting 7.8 million jobs. We need to build on that momentum in the years to come.”

The good news from the Commerce Department comes as the airline industry is looking forward to a sharp increase in demand. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Airline Industry Forecast, global passenger numbers are expected to rise to 3.91 billion by 2017. 

RELATED: Airlines Expect Sharp Rise in Passenger Demand

The Department of Commerce’s “Open for Business Agenda,” which Secretary Pritzker launched in November, places a high priority on trade and boosting U.S. exports, spurring foreign direct investment and travel and tourism. In 2012, the United States welcomed 67 million visitors, who spent $165.6 billion, all of which is counted as U.S. exports.

Travel and Tourism Advisory Board Recommendations

Secretary Pritzker also met with and received recommendations from the United States Travel and Tourism Advisory Board (TTAB) today. The Board advises the Secretary on government policies and programs that affect the U.S. travel and tourism industry, offers counsel on current and emerging issues in travel and tourism, and provides a forum for discussing and proposing solutions to industry-related problems. The Board makes recommendations throughout their two-year term; today’s are their final set of recommendations on priorities for the next three years.

Last year, President Obama launched the National Travel and Tourism Strategy, which set a goal of welcoming 100 million international visitors to the U.S. by the end of 2021. With that in mind, TTAB identified four main policy priorities that will best position the United States to facilitate and enhance traveler mobility and minimize or remove barriers to travel:

  • Visa and Entry Process: The Department of Commerce must work with partners at the Departments of State and Homeland Security to further enhance the entry process and make it more efficient.
  • Infrastructure Investment: There must be a call for long-delayed infrastructure investments, particularly in surface transportation (road and rail), airports and the U.S. aviation system. 
  • Brand USA: Already attracting more visitors from 11 international markets, Brand USA must be expanded and enhanced. Established in May 2011, the public-private entity is the nation's first global marketing effort to promote the United States as a premier travel destination and to communicate U.S. entry/exit policies and procedures to worldwide travelers.  In two years, Brand USA has already raised almost $190 million of in-kind and cash partnerships.
  • Public and Private Partnerships: The Department of Commerce should work with federal partners to welcome even more private-sector input into federal policies and programs that affect the travel and tourism industry.

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