by Toni-Anne Barry
The flow of international travelers into the United States is not only essential for the travel industry, but it’s a key driver of the U.S. economy. In 2009, Brand USA was established through the Travel Promotion Act to increase awareness of the U.S. as a top vacation destination for foreign tourists. The national organization is a public-private partnership that markets the U.S. through digital, print, and broadcast campaigns across the globe to bring more tourists to our shores.
One of the most important aspects of Brand USA is that it functions at no cost to taxpayers. It’s funded through a combination of fees levied on travelers coming into the U.S. and contributions from 800 partner organizations. The funding structure is a resounding success; with every dollar contributed to Brand USA, another $29 is generated for the U.S. economy. In 2017 alone, for example, the $140 million investment into Brand USA resulted in $4.1 billion in visitor spending.
This boost to the economy directly stimulates job creation within the travel industry. The U.S. Travel Association estimates that Brand USA investment results in the creation of an additional 51,000 American jobs each year and supports thousands more. And the effects are more widespread than just within the tourism sector, with substantial increases to local, state, and federal tax revenue. Since 2013, these foreign travelers brought in more than $5 billion in tax dollars that help grow local economies all across America.
Despite the clear and consistent success of Brand USA, the program is in danger. Starting in 2020, the federal funding from the fees levied on international travelers is set to be diverted to the general fund, rather than Brand USA. This expiration date threatens to chip away at a massive economic contributor. The travel and tourism industry will suffer due to the loss of an essential consumer base, and the entire U.S. economy will take a hard hit.
For hoteliers, this issue is a top priority. At the 2019 AAHOA Spring National Advocacy Conference, almost 200 AAHOA Members met with their representatives and senators to bring awareness to this issue. Hoteliers spoke firsthand about how important international travel is to their businesses and to their bottom lines. It’s up to Congress to recognize the value of Brand USA and reauthorize it before the 2020 funding expiration date. For a long-term solution, Congress must establish a dedicated funding mechanism specifically for Brand USA. At a time when there are few issues that are truly bipartisan, all lawmakers can and should support the continued promotion of international travel into the U.S. for the benefit of all American industries and our economy.