As the debate continues over the trade war and the trade deficit, a recent House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing reminded us of an important fact: the tourism industry generated a $69 billion trade surplus last year alone.
The hearing centered around the reauthorization of Brand USA and featured testimony from the U.S. Travel Association. According to their analysis, the overall trade deficit would have been 11 percent higher without the travel industry’s contribution.
Each year millions of international tourists travel to the United States, and unlike domestic travelers, they tend to spend more money and stay for longer periods of time during their stay. According to the U.S. Travel Association, overseas travelers spend around $4,200 and stay a little over two weeks on average. In addition, 79.6 million international visitors traveled to the U.S. and spent $256.1 billion during their stay last year.
Enter Brand USA.
Brand USA was created by Congress in 2009 through the Travel Promotion Act as a public-private partnership that markets the United States to international travelers. And they don’t just send people to the big cities we all know about like Chicago or Washington, DC. They also promote smaller towns, regional festivals and all of the hidden gems across the country. Just this year, Brand USA engaged in an integrated marketing campaign to promote Owensboro, Kentucky, known for their bluegrass music scene and barbeque, to international tourists.
While a national travel promotion budget isn’t exclusive to the United States, having one that is completely free to taxpayers is. The United States is the only country where taxpayers don’t pay to promote international travel to that country. Instead, Brand USA is funded by a small fee paid for by individuals traveling to the United States internationally thought the Visa Waiver Program and then matched by private industry. In comparison, Australia’s national travel budget is $120 million and Japan’s travel budget is $84 million that are both fully supported by taxpayer dollars. In addition, over half of Spain’s $96 million budget is funded by its taxpayers too.
But while Brand USA doesn’t need taxpayer money, it does require reauthorization every few years. Without Congress passing Brand USA’s reauthorization, our economy would see a significant loss in the trade surplus, a decline in jobs supported by the travel industry, and America’s top-ranking as a global travel destination. And if Brand USA’s funding isn’t reauthorized, the United States will be the only top-20 travel destination in the world without a national travel promotion budget.
During the hearing, it was clear there was wide bipartisan support to reauthorize Brand USA, which is why the bill was voted on and passed by the House Energy and Commerce committee. But now Congress needs to bring the bill to the House floor for a full vote. Brand USA benefits Americans across the country in every state, from big cities to small towns – and it does all of that without using taxpayer money. Let’s reauthorize it quickly, so the program can keep generating money here in America.
Mike Works is a 25 year veteran of the hospitality industry and currently serves as president and CEO of Nightcap Hospitality a multi-state hotel ownership, development, and management consulting company based in Lincoln, Nebraska.