U.S. Travel's International Pow Wow 2010, Remarks
THOMAS J. DONOHUE
President and CEO, US Chamber of Commerce
May 17, 2010
As Prepared for Delivery
Thank you very much, Roger, and good afternoon everyone.
I can't think of a better person to represent the travel and tourism industry than Roger.
As you may know, he's literally grown up in this business. He made his start 34 years ago as a lifeguard at one of the first Marriott hotels.
He climbed the ranks to lead their 10,000-strong global sales force. And he's been tremendously successful as head of U.S. Travel.
I also want to thank your chairman, Steve Joyce—a highly valued member of the Chamber and a leader on our President's Advisory Group.
But most of all, I want to extend a special welcome to our foreign visitors. We are very glad you are here.
Rule Number One in this industry is hospitality, so we hope you enjoy your stay, spend a little money, see a few sites, and, most importantly, send millions of your clients our way!
Importance of Travel and Tourism
I want to begin by recognizing the importance of the travel and tourism industry.
I realize I am preaching to the choir here, but I hope to reach a broader audience with my remarks.
The fact is none of us can afford to pass up an opportunity to highlight this industry's contributions to economic growth, job creation, national security, and our very way of life.
In the United States alone, this is a $700 billion industry providing 7.4 million jobs and generating $186 billion in wages.
Small and large businesses alike can thrive in this industry. There's no lock on this market for anyone. The playing field is open. The competition is fierce. The opportunities are endless. Travel and tourism represents free enterprise at its best.
This industry is central not only to the strength of our economy, but also to the vitality of America's culture and society, our global influence, and international diplomacy.
Most foreign visitors who get to know our people and our culture leave with a better appreciation for our country.
That's the best marketing there is!
America is—and always has been—more prosperous, safer, and better off when we engage the world when we reach out and welcome in.
But not everyone gets it. It's our job to make sure they do. Not just the job of U.S. Travel and the U.S. Chamber, but each individual who makes a living in this industry or depends on it.
We all need to speak clearly with a united voice—to policymakers, elected officials, and even our neighbors.
For example, most people aren't aware that travel and tourism counts among U.S. exports—and it's a major factor.
The president has echoed the Chamber's call to double our exports in the next five years.
Bolstering travel and tourism can and must play a major role in achieving that goal.
Promoting Travel and Tourism
So when we look at the industry today, how is it doing?
The global recession has hit it hard. But as the economy recovers, so, too, is travel and tourism. We see signs of it everywhere.
Planes are fuller. Highway traffic is picking up. Consumers are loosening their wallets a bit.
The eruption of the volcano in Iceland was a serious setback. European governments need to be better prepared and more coordinated in their response to these kinds of unforeseen events.
But, we have reason to be hopeful about the economy and about travel.
On the public policy front, passage of the Travel Promotion Act was a tremendous step forward. The Chamber was proud to join you in supporting this landmark legislation.
It could help attract millions of new visitors, facilitate an additional $4 billion in consumer spending, and generate another 40,000 U.S. jobs if we are smart about implementing it. More on that in a minute.
It's about time that the United States got serious about revitalizing and growing this essential industry.
Earlier this year U.S. Travel and Oxford Economics unveiled a study. It found that the number of visitors to the United States declined by 2.4 million between 2000 and 2009.
The cost of this decline? 440,000 American jobs and more than $500 billion in total travel-related spending.
Ladies and gentlemen, America cannot afford another "lost decade" in travel and tourism—especially when we're scrambling for ways to kick-start the economy and create jobs.
Steps to Strengthen the Industry
So what must we do to strengthen the economy by strengthening this industry? Let me mention five major steps.
First, we need to be smart about implementing the Travel Promotion Act.
As you know, this legislation created a private-public partnership—without any U.S. taxpayer funds—to communicate changes to domestic travel policies and to promote America as a travel destination abroad.
A well-executed promotion program would attract 1.6 million new international visitors annually.
The Congressional Budget Office says it will create some 40,000 American jobs—and cut the ballooning U.S. deficit by $425 million.
Three key things need to happen. First, the government needs to appoint the right people to the new Corporation's board.
Your association must play a leading role in that effort. You're the experts. You know what works and what doesn't. Let's make sure our leaders listen and get it right.
The U.S. Chamber will back you up all the way.
Second, DHS must move quickly to implement—without delay—the regulations needed to start collecting the fees that make the program possible.
Third, we need to make certain the participating private sector companies hold up their end of the bargain.
The U.S. Chamber will use every means at its disposal to ensure that stakeholder companies are engaged in this process and that this remains a public-private partnership.
TPA can be a great step forward. But, we must make sure it achieves its full potential.
Laying Out the Welcome Mat
Second, once we get people to visit, we need to lay out the welcome mat, and that means reducing the "hassle factor."
Clearly, a visitor's first experience after landing in our country can be improved.
The wait time to clear customs should be no longer than 30 minutes.
Signage in our airports is often confusing and inadequate.
The first thing that occurs is a security inspection that includes finger printing.
While security must always be our very top priority, that doesn't mean we can't also become a world leader in customer service!
Let's improve our welcome, and then see how many more people come to this great country.
I give great credit to the government and the industry for improving the customer experience since 9/11.
Despite this progress, there are still some commonsense steps we can take to make things even better without compromising security in any way.
The government and the private sector should work more closely together to market and expand trusted traveler programs like "Global Entry."
Low-risk passengers willing to engage in a comprehensive screening and pay a fee for expedited passage would help alleviate wait times not only for themselves, but for everyone else.
We also need to bring more countries into the Visa Waiver program, which is a budget-neutral, job-creating stimulus for the travel and tourism sector.
For example, in 2008, the Chamber and others helped secure South Korea's inclusion in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.
For many years, Korea was among the top five origin countries for visitors to the United States. It has been the largest source of foreign students studying at U.S. schools and universities.
However, nearly all Korean applicants for U.S. visas were required to visit the U.S. Embassy in Seoul for a personal interview.
This requirement often presented logistical challenges and waits for visa applicants, and had an adverse impact on the travel and tourism industry.
Thanks to the Visa Waiver program, nearly 750,000 Korean citizens traveled to the United States last year, contributing close to $3 billion to the U.S. economy.
The Chamber also has joined the U.S. Travel Association this year in calling for a pilot to fully test the use of remote and secure videoconferencing technology for visa interviews.
Improving the Travel Infrastructure
Third, we need a dramatic improvement in our infrastructure, which supports foreign and domestic travelers, and indeed, underpins our entire economy.
Our transportation system must hum with efficiency and create the secure, comfortable environment that travelers deserve and expect.
Getting there requires planning and investment. The Chamber is fighting hard to make sure our intermodal system of travel—our seaports, airports, border crossings, roads, bridges, and transit systems—receive the funds necessary to make them and keep them world class.
We're not just talking about public funds, though increase support there is critical.
There are countless billions of dollars in pent-up private sector capital just waiting to be invested in all kinds of infrastructure products—but we have to provide the incentives and clear away the roadblocks.
Commercial, Cultural, and Natural Environments
Fourth, we must keep America an attractive destination both for business travelers and tourists by strengthening our commercial, cultural, and natural environments.
People travel to get somewhere. If the destinations themselves are overcrowded, unsafe, inhospitable, or in a state of neglect, the word will get out and people won't come. It's that simple.
So we must work hard to ensure that heritages are preserved, that travelers are greeted with an array of choices, and that new attractions, restaurants, and entertainment options have the chance to take root and grow.
This requires smart and balanced growth, with government policies that encourage investment, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
Let me add that I see you're promoting Ken Burns' important series on the National Parks.
It's a powerful reminder that America's spectacular natural heritage is among our strongest attractions. We can never forget that.
Commonsense Public Policies
In all of these areas, Congress and the federal agencies can help advance the cause of travel and tourism or they can help undermine it.
So our fifth step should be to remain constantly vigilant and to be aggressive advocates for the industry.
Few in this industry would object to reasonable taxes, fees, and regulations to build the infrastructure, educate the workers, and provide the essential services that we all count on in our society.
But visitors tend to come and go—and they usually vote somewhere else. So it's awfully tempting for governments to view travel and tourism as a cash cow they can milk over and over again to support a vast range of government programs.
And in an era of government deficits at all levels, they are going to be scrounging for money anyplace they can get it.
We need to stay very alert to this reality.
And we all must defend this industry against foolish attacks.
We too often hear shallow rhetoric from Washington politicians blasting business travel in order to score cheap political points.
The fact is that domestic business travel is responsible for $240 billion in spending and 2.4 million American jobs. That's good for America.
Moreover, studies show that greater levels of corporate travel lead to healthier bottom lines. Healthier bottom lines mean a more robust recovery.
These attacks hurt real people in real communities across the country. They don't help create one single job or put one single person back to work.
And we can't let them get away with it.
I was pleased to learn of U.S. Travel's new grass roots program, the Power of Travel Coalition.
This initiative to engage one million travel advocates—from destination marketers and hotel and attraction workers to our local and national vendors—will help our elected officials see the light or feel the heat!
If Congress and the American people are looking for something to spur the economy and create jobs, they need look no further than travel and tourism.
And it's up to us—all of us—to help them realize it and act accordingly.
The U.S. Chamber and U.S. Travel have been partners in this endeavor for a long time. Today, we have a compelling mission before us
To support a great industry and the millions of new jobs and opportunities it can create if only given the chance
To keep America's doors open to put the welcome mat back out for visitors foreign and domestic and to ask that other countries do the same
And to ensure that public officials understand just how important this industry is to our economy to America's small businesses and our global companies to workers from all backgrounds and skill levels and to our nation's positive image and role in the world.
So thank you again for inviting me to speak today. I wish you a very successful convention. And I look forward to continuing the great partnership between the U.S. Chamber and U.S. Travel.
Thank you very much.
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