Bill helps promote U.S. as ‘top international travel destination’

The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation earlier this month to create a “public-private partnership to promote the United States as a top international travel destination,” according to a news release from Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.

The Travel Promotion Act of 2009 would be funded through “private sector contributions” and $10 “user fees” paid by international visitors. The bill does not rely on American taxpayer dollars and would result in a $400 million Travel Promotion Fund, its sponsors say.

“Our nation’s economy is struggling and international travel promotion is part of the solution,” Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, said in a May news release. “This much-needed legislation will help the United States to create thousands of new jobs and welcome billions in new spending by international visitors.”

A number of the bill’s opponents say the legislation could actually hurt tourism because of the increased costs to visit the country. In an op-ed article published Sept. 7 in The Washington Post, U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., called the bill “Fannie Travel,” saying it is a “$400 million corporate welfare boondoggle.”

“The $400 million Travel Promotion Fund … is perhaps the perfect illustration of the disconnect between the American people and their representatives in Washington,” DeMint said in the op-ed, noting that the fund would be controlled by “leaders of America’s tourism industry.”

“The American travel industry already spends billions every year on advertising with tens of millions focused on international marketing,” DeMint said. “The purpose of the Travel Promotion Act is to subsidize that advertising.”

Proponents point to an Oxford Economics study that shows the bill’s passage could bring 1.6 million new international visitors to the country every year and create $4 billion in new economic activity annually.

“Even as global travel as a whole increased, the number of overseas tourists travelling to the United States has decreased since 2001,” Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said in a news release. “This bill will create a coordinated effort to encourage tourists to come to the United States, reversing that trend. And in addition to creating jobs, people from around the world who come to our country will leave with a positive view of America.”

The Senate voted 79-19 on Sept. 9 to pass the bill. The U.S. House of Representatives has not yet voted on the bill.

“How deeply into debt do we have to get before Congress kicks its addiction to hundred-million-dollar impulse shopping?” DeMint said in his op-ed. “Any senator who votes to create a $400 million program to subsidize billion-dollar, multinational corporations either doesn’t understand the seriousness of America’s economic problems or just doesn’t care.”

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