Editor’s Note: Thanks to Hank Koppelman, IMAGES’ travel industry expert, for keeping us updated on all things travel-related.
Finally, the Travel Promotion Act has been signed by President Obama, creating the Corporation for Travel Promotion, a new non-profit agency tasked with generating increased tourism to the United States. The White House said the bill will, “create jobs, encourage travel to the United States, and help the tourism industry, which has been hurting as a result of the economic downturn.”
However, the Act is still being heavily debated by members of the travel industry. The question is whether or not the Act will inadvertently hurt the very industry it is intended to help.
The bill would impose a $10 fee on travelers who don’t need to pay for a visa to enter the United States. The revenue generated by the fee would, along with private sector matching funds, pay for the Corporation for Travel Promotion. This new non-profit will consist of an 11-member board tasked with developing ad campaigns encouraging tourists to visit the U.S. The Corporation for Travel and Promotion is the first time the United States, the only country in the world without a national campaign or tourist board, has proactively tried to encourage travel to the U.S. Previously, States independently operated their own tourism boards, but there has never been a national focus.
So, what’s the issue? While many in the industry feel this is the most comprehensive, broad reaching piece of legislation that will not only help the travel industry, but the entire U.S. economy, there are others who feel the Act is counterintuitive. The negative aspects being discussed center around the “double-speak” of inviting foreign tourists to visit our country and at the same time forcing them to pay an additional $10 fee to fund the very advertising that encourages them to visit the U.S.
It is well known that the U.S. has the reputation of being one of the most unfriendly countries when it comes to processing international visitors through Customs and Immigration. This faction contends funds need to be allocated to address the issues of Customs and Immigration, through increases in staff, expansion of language capabilities, and customer service training.
Other opponents feel individual states are doing a good job of developing foreign tourist interest in their respective states and regions. However, the fact that an umbrella approach would provide the advantage of leveraging existing efforts and a concerted national effort seems to outweigh this objection.
Whatever your position, it is absolutely necessary to build international travel to the U.S., since overall arrival numbers continue to remain below pre-September 11 levels for the eighth straight year. While Canadians continue to top international visitors, the burgeoning and diverse markets of China, Japan, Brazil and India await our “Official Invitation.”