After a long struggle, landmark legislation that establishes a multimillion-dollar, public-private partnership to promote the United States as a premier travel destination and better explain travel security policies to foreign travelers (the Travel Promotion Act) gained final passage Thursday by a strong bipartisan vote of 78 to 18 in the Senate. The legislation passed the House in 2009.
The U.S. Travel Association expects President Obama to sign the Act into law within 10 days, and will present its implementation plan to Department of Commerce next week.
“This is a historic victory for the U.S. economy and the one in eight American workers whose jobs depend on travel,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “The United States Congress has sent a clear message that travel is a high priority to our nation and that tangible steps must be taken to increase travel to and within the United States. We are extremely grateful to the bill’s champions: Senators Reid, Dorgan, Ensign and Klobuchar in the Senate and Representatives Delahunt, Blunt and Farr in the House.”
The Travel Promotion Act creates the Corporation for Travel Promotion, modeled after successful programs in U.S. states and other developed nations, with the mission of attracting more visitors to the country.
The initiative is funded through a matching program featuring up to $100 million in private sector contributions and a $10 fee on foreign travelers who do not pay $131 for a visa to enter the U.S. The fee will be collected once every two years in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization. No money is provided by U.S. taxpayers.
A “fair and logical way” to raise funds will be found, Dow said, and that there would be no assessment of fees on the industry.
“We know how successful a public-private partnership to promote travel can be from our own experience at the state level,” said Caroline Beteta, chair of the U.S. Travel Association and president and CEO of the California Travel & Tourism Commission. “With the best minds coming together from government and private industry to boost international travel to our country, we can make travel an even stronger economic engine for America.”
U.S. Travel cites independent analysis by Oxford Economics that the program could attract 1.6 million additional visitors from other countries and create more than $4 billion in consumer spending annually.
The Corporation will work closely with Homeland Security,the Department of Commerce, and the State Department to develop a nationally coordinated, multi-channel marketing and communications program to attract more international visitors and explain changing travel security policies.
The plan includes not only an advertising and promotional campaign, but also the need to communicate and explain U.S. policy and procedures for entering the U.S. Past policies, U.S. Travel said, were often confusing and a barrier to encouraging travel to the U.S. An eleven member Board of Directors will be named to the Corporation for Travel Promotion along with an executive director and professional staff to manage the program.
“We could never have accomplished this common sense policy without our champions in Congress and the White House, and without the united and passionate voice of the travel community," said Jonathan Tisch, Chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels and chairman emeritus of the U.S. Travel Association. "The Travel Promotion Act shows what can be accomplished when the government and private sector work together to solve a problem.”
Research shows that international travel to the U.S., especially from overseas origins, has suffered due to negative perceptions about travel processes following increased security reforms after 9/11, U.S. Travel says. While international travel has boomed over the past decade, with 46 million more international travelers taking long-haul trips in 2009 than in 2000, the U.S. actually lost visitors, welcoming 2.4 million fewer overseas travelers than in 2000.
The failure of the U.S. to simply keep pace with the growth in international long-haul travel has cost a combined 68 million visitors to the U.S. and more than $500 billion in total spending over the last decade, U.S. Travel says. Visit www.poweroftravel.org or www.ustravel.org.