The travel industry is hailing a National Travel and Tourism Strategy announced by the White House today that promises federal support for travel in a way never before seen in the U.S.
The strategy mandates the creation of a National Travel and Tourism Office within the Commerce Department. It also sets an ambitious goal of attracting 100 million foreign visitors annually to the U.S. by 2021, up from just over 60 million in 2011.
The new National Travel and Tourism Office gives the industry a major platform for influencing policies across the federal government. The office will be the “central driving force” for travel and tourism policy in the federal government, said Commerce Secretary John Bryson in a press call today.
The strategy also encompasses further steps to ease entry for foreign visitors; a promise to better coordinate federal programs that affect tourism, and government support of travel -related research.
Music to our ears
“We want the world to know there has not been a better time to visit the U.S. and America is truly open for business,” said Bryson.
Bryson’s message is music to the travel industry’s ears, said U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow during the press call with Bryson, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and other top administration officials.
“The travel industry is very, very excited about this,” said Dow. Dow met earlier in the day with Reps. Sam Farr and Jo Bonner, co-chairs of the Senate and Congressional Tourism Caucus, who briefed industry leaders on the strategy.
“A national strategy is finally here – we’ve been talking about it for 16 years,” said Dow, noting that the initiative was announced just 90 days after President Obama issued a mandate to create a travel policy in January. (See story, "Jubilant Industry Leaders Hail Obama’s Travel Strategy," Jan. 23, 2012)
NTA president Lisa Simon also hailed the news. “We applaud the development of this national strategy. It's wonderful to see the various government agencies pull together to improve the U.S. as a travel destination, both for international and for domestic tourists.
“The fact they've already made vast improvements in streamlining visa applications in key markets is encouraging, and we look forward to more progress."
Mayflower Tours president John Stachnik was equally enthusiastic. “I’m thrilled,” said Stachnik.
“Not only did the government say they will increase their promotional efforts, but that they would make it easier for people to travel to and within the U.S. Both elements are very important.”
Big impact on meetings and events
Stachnik, who also owns a destination management company called On the Scene Chicago, said the tourism strategy will be an important factor in encouraging more international attendance at U.S.-based meetings, trade shows and other events.
“This tourism strategy is very significant for the meetings and events industry in the U.S,” he said. “It will ensure that more international associations and corporations will want to meet here.”
Stachnik had praise for the U.S. travel industry organizations that have worked hard to convey their message about the need for government-level tourism support.
“It’s not just about getting the support of senators and congressmen, it’s about getting support from all the various government departments – to make sure they think of tourism in their planning. It took a longtime to get the word out, but now the message is really drilling down.”
Driver of growth
The new strategy recognizes the travel industry’s importance to economic growth, jobs creation and public diplomacy, Dow and Simon said.
Travel and tourism has created 250,000 jobs since the recession ended – 59,000 new jobs this year so far, according to Dow, who said that outpaces all other service industries. “These jobs cannot be outsourced,” he added.
Travel and tourism also contributed $125 billion in service exports to the economy, making it the leading service sector contributor to the balance of trade, said Dow.
Aiming for #1
Bryson said the strategy sets forth an “ambitious goal” of making the U.S. the world’s top travel destination by the end of 2021. If the U.S. succeeds in attracting 100 million international visitors annually, they would spend an estimated $250 billion, he said.
“At same time we will encourage Americans to travel here at home,” said Bryson.
Bryson noted that Interior Secretary Salazar is joining him in implementing the travel strategy, which he said demonstrates that the government means business. (See sidebar.)
The government is intent on implementing the strategy because of travel’s potential to create jobs, strengthen the balance of trade and improve public diplomacy, he said.
Key elements of the National Travel and Tourism Strategy include:
• Easing entry for foreign visitors by using technology, expanding the Trusted Traveler program, improving customs staffing at international gateways and expanding open skies agreements, for improved international air service.
• Working with the travel industry to collect and analyze data to inform government and industry decisions that would affect travel and tourism.
• Better coordinating federal policies, programs and participation in public-private tourism initiatives by “reinvigorating” the Tourism Policy Council
Maria Lenhart contributed to this report.