$2.6 Trillion Impact of Travel Spending Highlighted by Tour

May 23, 2023 by Dan McCue
$2.6 Trillion Impact of Travel Spending Highlighted by Tour
City of Alexandria Councilman John Taylor Chapman (left), Nicole Porter (middle) and Visit Alexandria President & CEO Patricia Washington (right) (U.S. Travel Association photo)

WASHINGTON — Travel for business and leisure has a $2.6 trillion annual impact on the U.S. economy, and the U.S. Travel Association is taking steps to make sure you don’t forget it as the summer travel season gets underway this Memorial Day weekend.

Among them, earlier this month, was the relaunch of Travel Works for America, a national advocacy tour designed to highlight the far-reaching contributions travel makes to communities throughout the United States.

The tour began on Capitol Hill on Wednesday May 10, as part of the 40th anniversary celebration of National Travel and Tourism Week.

At its first stop, a branded Travel Works food truck served coffee and donuts — along with a message that travel fuels the American economy — to morning commuters, Capitol Hill staffers and more than 20 members of Congress near the U.S. House of Representatives office buildings.

The tour then moved to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland’s Inner Harbor, before sweeping back to D.C.’s Franklin Park and Old Town Alexandria.

Over the next several months, the Travel Works tour is slated to visit Charleston, South Carolina; Savannah, Georgia; Orlando, Florida; Boston, Massachusetts; and Detroit, Michigan.

“We launched Travel Works for America 2019 to demonstrate to elected officials and thought leaders how travel benefits their communities across other sectors of the economy,” said Tori Barnes, executive vice president of Public Affairs and Policy at the nonprofit association. 

“The first stops were in St. Louis, Missouri, and Columbus, Ohio, and then the pandemic hit,” Barnes told The Well News during a recent interview. “As you can imagine, that forced us to put the whole effort on ice, and that is one of the reasons why we’re so excited to relaunch it this year.

“What’s important about things like the food truck at the Capitol and other things we’ve done in the other communities we’ve visited, is that these activities make travel more tangible to folks and elected leaders at all levels of government.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘Well, this community is a travel destination.’ It’s another for people to really understand the specific importance of international, domestic and business travel in their communities and how each of these benefits everything from manufacturing to health care to education in their region,” she said.

In a sense, Travel Works is a reset button, the program’s underlying goal being to foster travel and bring industry activity back to pre-pandemic levels.

“In terms of recovery, domestic leisure has been leading the way, but international business travel is still down from pre-pandemic levels,” Barnes said.

According to an April report from the World Travel & Tourism Council, the United States remains the world’s largest travel and tourism market, and the sector is expected to exceed its 2019 peak this year, creating more than 1.2 million jobs in the process.

Tori Barnes, executive vice president of Public Affairs and Policy at U.S. Travel Association.

Like Barnes, the council attributes much of this growth to the continued resilience of the domestic leisure travel market, which it says has already surpassed pre-pandemic levels of economic activity.

However, the council continues to predict a sluggish recovery for international inbound travel due to ongoing “headwinds,” with a full recovery not expected prior to 2025.

“Now, there are ways to address that — improving the air travel system and entry systems into the U.S., or reducing the really long wait times for visas that we’re seeing in countries that require one — but before you get there, you have to build momentum and the knowledge base, and that’s what the Travel Works for America advocacy tour is really all about,” Barnes said.

On the federal level, Barnes said she was delighted last year when Congress passed bipartisan legislation establishing an assistant secretary for travel and tourism at the Department of Commerce.

“Right now, we’re the only one of the top 20 countries that doesn’t have a tourism minister,” she said. “This office will be able to work across the government to help better facilitate travel industry parties throughout the government.”

Rolled into the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill passed by Congress in late December, the Omnibus Travel and Tourism Act does more than establish the position of assistant secretary of travel and tourism.

The United States Travel and Tourism Advisory Board has a membership composed of representatives from companies and organizations in the travel and tourism industry who would be appointed for two-year terms and would advise the secretary of Commerce on travel and tourism industry-related matters.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo announced the appointments of the first 32 members of that panel in January.

The legislation requires the commerce secretary, in consultation with the advisory board, the interagency Tourism Policy Council and the secretary of Homeland Security, to submit to Congress a 10-year travel and tourism strategy, not less frequently than once every 10 years.

It also authorizes the Transportation Security Administration, in coordination with the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to conduct a six-year pilot program, at up to six foreign last point of departure airports, where passengers departing those airports could continue on additional flights or flight segments originating in the United States without additional security rescreening if their initial screening at their airport was conducted in accordance with an aviation screening agreement and if other security requirements are met.

“Now that we’ve finally removed the barriers stemming from COVID, the assistant secretary and the new advisory board will be able to work across the government to prioritize and help better facilitate travel priorities for the government. 

“Simultaneously, we think that the White House needs to get the State Department more acutely focused on what it can do to really prioritize travel issues,” she said.

“For instance, one thing I mentioned earlier was the visa backlog,” Barnes continued. “In many of our top international travel markets, the visa backlog to get into the country is more than a year.

“And if you have to wait over a year to get a visa to come to the U.S., you’re going to go somewhere else. It’s that simple. And we’re already seeing other countries reaching out to these frustrated international visitors, because they understand the positive impact these individuals have on an economy,” she said.

Another priority for the U.S. Travel Association is the appointment of a new, permanent administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration, a position that has been filled by Billy Nolen, on an “acting” basis since the last administrator, Steven Dickson, stepped down in March 2022.

“The White House needs to prioritize getting someone nominated and getting someone through that process,” Barnes said. “Once that’s accomplished, we need investment in air traffic controllers, we need investments in technologies so that we can make the air travel system one that people will welcome. And after that, there are all kinds of things that we should be doing to create a better travel experience. And that really does start with our elected federal officials.”

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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