President Obama Signs Travel Promotion Act Into Law12 Mar 2010
Last Thursday, President Obama signed into law the Travel Promotion Act of 2009, a measure designed to boost the U.S. economy and promote job creation by increasing international tourism to the United States. It is specifically aimed at reversing the long downward trend in the American travel and tourism sector, brought on by a variety of measures implemented in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001: new security fees that have sharply increased the cost of airline tickets, more onerous procedures for foreign nationals seeking to visit the United States – such as the controversial fingerprinting requirement, and the preregistration that now is mandated for Visa Waiver Program travelers – along with increasingly intrusive searches of one’s baggage and person, culminating in the new full-body scanners that leave little to the imagination of security personnel. Taken together, these measures – however well-intentioned – have created a perception that foreigners are not welcome in the USA.
According to the Washington Post, the number of foreign visitors to the United States dropped by nearly ten percent in the past decade. (See: Obama Signs Travel Promotion Act, by Michael A. Fletcher, March 4, 2010, Washington Post). This is especially startling because it coincides with a long slide in the value of the U.S. dollar against other major currencies – something that normally would be expected to increase tourism to the United States.
The new law will create a National Tourism Board, a public-private partnership that will promote foreign tourism in the United States, through a coordinated campaign of advertising and educational outreach “to help potential travelers navigate United States visa requirements and security procedures,” the Washington Post reports. Supporters of the new law claim it will bring as many as 1.6 million new international visitors to the U.S., and with that, $4 billion in new spending and over $300 million in additional tax receipts, according to the Post article. The program will be funded by a $10 fee on visitors from Visa Waiver Program countries, matched by contributions from the travel industry.
The measure also may help shrink the federal deficit. The sponsor of the legislation – Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota – cited Congressional Budget Office figures indicating that the new legislation will reduce the federal deficit by more than $425 million; it also would create some 40,000 jobs in its first year, according to statistics from the U.S. Travel Association, cited by Dorgan. (See: Dorgan, Klobuchar Say Passage Of Travel Promotion Act Will Create Jobs, Boost Economy, Feb 25, 2010.) Dorgan’s website noted the sharp dropoff in tourism in the years after 9/11: “The average overseas visitor puts over $4,000 into the economy, but in 2009, the U.S. welcomed almost 2.4 million fewer overseas visitors than in 2000. This decline translates into an estimated $214 billion lost in direct visitor spending and hundreds of thousands of lost jobs.”
Anything that can restore foreign tourism to its levels, pre-9/11, is a very good thing indeed. Our economy has suffered enormously from the loss of revenues once brought in by foreign travelers to the United States. But, obviously, this is about more than just dollars and cents. As a nation, it is in our best interest to maintain close ties with the rest of the world, to promote the kind of mutual understanding that can only happen through travel, and informal cultural exchange, on a person-to-person level. At a time when the U.S. reputation is still suffering from the excesses of the recent past, increasing foreign tourism is a great way to rebuild our friendships and be seen once again as a country that is open to other cultures and welcoming of people from every land. We have a long way to go, but this is a step in the right direction.