In Washington, D.C., summer means tour buses in the streets, monuments and museums teeming with people from around the globe, and hotels, restaurants, and shops packed with travelers looking to experience everything that our nation’s capital has to offer.
For Washington, as well as other cities and states from coast to coast, we’re now entering peak travel season. Obviously, that’s good news for the hotel industry, but it’s also a welcome development for businesses of all kinds, big and small. Tourism, particularly international tourism, plays a tremendous role in sustaining our economy—a role that President Obama highlighted in a recent speech at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., where he cited the $1.5 trillion in total economic activity resulting from travel and tourism in 2013. As he said, “When it comes to tourism, we’ve got a great product to sell.”
Indeed, we do have a great product. From the uniquely American attraction of the Hall of Fame and the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains to the distinctive cuisine and beaches of the Gulf Coast, our nation has something to offer to everyone. And for the past few years, Brand USA, the public-private partnership created in 2010 to help attract international visitors, has played a crucial role in helping to sell that product.
In July, the House of Representatives passed the Travel Promotion, Enhancement, and Modernization Act (H.R. 4450), sponsored by Congressmen Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.). The vote was a strong signal that Congress sees the benefits of this program. Now, it’s essential that the Senate take equally swift action on their version of this legislation (S. 2250), sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).
Failure to reauthorize this valuable program would be a significant blow to our economy. The numbers speak for themselves: Last year, Brand USA generated 1.1 million incremental international visitors, $3.4 billion in consumer spending, and $1 billion in total sales tax revenue and created or supported 53,000 jobs—all of this without the investment of a single dollar in taxpayer funds.
It makes sense to do everything we can to increase the flow of tourism to our country and continue to actively promote the United States abroad for those millions of people seeking to explore our shores, visit our cities, and soak in our national treasures. At AH&LA, we’re extremely proud of our industry’s role as a key driver of economic growth and job creation, and that growth depends heavily on international travel.
What’s more, Brand USA helps to communicate our country’s entry policy to incoming travelers, thereby making it more efficient and user-friendly. Nearly every other country in the world has an official program in place to welcome international tourists to their nation, and the lack of a similar promotional program in the United States would prevent us from maximizing the number of visitors to our country.
With one in nine U.S. jobs dependent on travel and tourism, reauthorizing Brand USA is a vital step for our country. With zero cost to taxpayers, this is a bill that everyone should get behind.
AH&LA and our state-level affiliates are working diligently with Congress to generate additional support and passage of the Klobuchar/Blunt legislation. We urge hoteliers across the country to contact their members of Congress and ask them to support the reauthorization of Brand USA and demonstrate their commitment to the continued strength of the lodging industry.
Craig Kalkut is AH&LA’s vice president of governmental affairs. For more information, visit www.ahla.com.