Yesterday, President Obama chose “The Happiest Place on Earth” to announce a new national strategy to boost travel and tourism. Judging by the number of endorsements of the Executive Order from industry organizations and hotel companies, the location of the President’s speech was apropos, as it made a lot hoteliers very happy.
One of the more satisfying aspects of the speech at Walt Disney Resort was the President’s acknowledgement of the prominent role the travel and tourism industry plays in creating U.S. jobs—something, of course, that is drastically needed in today’s recovering economy. According to the U.S. Travel Association, Travel and tourism is a $1.2 trillion sector of the U.S. economy and represents nearly 3 percent of gross domestic product.
So how will the plan boost travel and tourism, especially from international travelers? The initiative focuses on improving travel facilitation by coordinating activity among the Department of Commerce, Department of State, and Department of Homeland Security. The President has directed the Department of Commerce to create a task force to develop a “National Travel & Tourism Strategy.” The task force will coordinate cross-departmental efforts and ensure private sector participation.
He also addressed two issues long championed by the travel and tourism industry. President Obama recommended promoting unique U.S. destinations and experiences, which is currently the task of Brand USA. Perhaps more important, the President recommended reducing wait times for visas in rapid-growth countries such as China and Brazil, and making the U.S. Global Entry program permanent.
“Every year, tens of millions of tourists from all over the world come and visit America. And the more folks who visit America, the more Americans we get back to work,” the President said. “We need to help businesses all across the country grow and create jobs; compete and win. That’s how we’re going to rebuild an economy where hard work pays off, where responsibility is rewarded, and where anyone can make it if they try.”
AH&LA President and CEO Joe McInerney agrees. He was at the announcement and released the following statement, “I was honored to stand with the President in Orlando as he announced that travel and tourism will be a national priority. Travel and tourism is among the nation’s largest employers and a top 10 industry in 48 states—so this effort will benefit every community. By focusing on these high-growth sectors, the United States is poised to create jobs and strengthen the economy.”
Promoting tourism and reducing visa wait times remain two of the top priorities of the hospitality industry. I’ve sat through many speeches from industry executives, members of Congress, and members of the President’s Administration discussing the importance of increasing the image the United States to international travelers. Each time I hear it, I further realize that hotels play a vital role in not only the American economy, but also the economies of the world.
This speech was a little different, because it came from the most powerful man in the world. I have no doubt that we will once again see good times in our economy. Unemployment will fall and people will eventually get back to work. And, I know that the travel and tourism industry will play an important role in that recovery. But, it’s always nice to hear it from the top.