U.S. tourism bill good for isles


POSTED: Saturday, September 12, 2009

A federal office that promoted tourism to the United States was created in 1937 but was scaled back in the 1970s and eliminated entirely in 1996 because of its cost to taxpayers. A bill that would restore federal promotion of international travel to America without dipping into tax dollars should be enacted.

The bill introduced by Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and John Ensign, R-Nev., that would create a public-private partnership to promote tourism was approved by the Senate on Thursday by an 80-19 vote. Hawaii Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka were among 53 co-sponsors.

Worldwide foreign travel has blossomed in recent years, with 56 million more overseas trips taken in 2008 than in 2000. However, overseas travel to America decreased by 634,000 during that same period, as visa requirements were tightened following the terrorist attacks of 2001.

That was not the main reason for increased travel elsewhere. Other countries spent millions of euros or yen or pesos or rupees on advertising their attributes. “;Most other countries are very aggressively going after the international traveler, saying: 'Come to our country,'”; Dorgan said.

“;If we remind them, whether by brochures, Internet advertising, television advertising or whatever the advertising media we choose, we will attract people here,”; he added.

The legislation would charge a $10 entry fee for visitors to the U.S. to create a fund capped at $100 million, combined with matching funds by the private sector, for a Corporation for Travel Promotion. It would be headed by an 11-member board comprised of federal, state and local officials and representatives of the travel industry. A new office in the U.S. Department of Commerce would support its work.

The bill, if enacted, is expected to increase international visitors to the U.S. by 1.6 million visitors a year, each spending $4,500 on average. That would generate

$4 billion in new spending and create 40,000 new jobs. Last year alone, 200,000 travel-related jobs were lost, and the Commerce Department expects 247,000 will be lost this year.

Through July, Hawaii hosted 969,343 international visitors, compared with more than 1 million through the same period last year, according to the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

“;This legislation would encourage people to visit the U.S. by helping potential visitors navigate tightened post-9/11 travel policies and by competing with other countries' marketing campaigns,”; Akaka said in a news release. “;Promoting international tourism is a solid investment in our economy.”;