Travel and Tourism Can Help Spur Recovery
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By Tom Donohue, President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Hundreds of cities and tens of thousands of small businesses depend on travel and tourism for their very survival, including the city I work in, Washington, D.C. In fact, travel and tourism is a $740 billion industry that employs 7.5 million people. It's been hard hit by the economic recession.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the number of international visitors who traveled to the United States in January 2009 fell 9% from the previous year. This is a real loss—the international traveler spends on average about $4,500 each time he or she enters the United States. In addition, congestion, crumbling infrastructure, and airport delays are discouraging domestic travel.
One thing we can do to stimulate the economy is to promote the vital travel and tourism industry. We can start by making America a more inviting place for international travelers to visit and conduct business. Passage of the Travel Promotion Act would be a huge step in the right direction. It would do two things.
First, it would create a private-public partnership—without any U.S. taxpayer funds—to promote the United States as a travel destination abroad. Most other countries already have nationally coordinated promotion efforts. Oxford Economics estimates that a well-executed program would attract 1.6 million new international visitors annually. This means more U.S. jobs.
Second, the Travel Promotion Act would help communicate changes in U.S. travel policies to alleviate much of the confusion and inconvenience sometimes associated with traveling to the United States, especially regarding new and intrusive security requirements that create the perception that foreign visitors are not welcome.
In addition to attracting international visitors, we need to remove impediments that make it difficult for our own citizens to travel within our borders. Highway congestion, airport delays, and other inconveniences are increasingly causing many Americans to rethink travel plans. If we invest in a modernized infrastructure, we could create jobs during the recession as well as encourage more domestic travel when times are better.
Attracting visitors to our country is a lot like attracting capital—they go where they feel welcome, safe, and can get their money's worth. We want the United States to be the travel destination of the world, while making it easier for our citizens to get from point A to point B. Passage of the Travel Promotion Act would help achieve this at no cost to U.S. taxpayers.