The travel and tourism industry was the focus of the first session of the American Economic Competitiveness Series, led by the White House Business Council. Nearly 50 national tourism leaders were on hand for the August 1 meeting, which included presentations by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling and Todd Davidson, CEO of Travel Oregon and chair of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board.
The industry’s prominence is evident, said Davidson. “The awareness, recognition and resulting actions exhibited by the White House and the administration are unprecedented,” Davidson said. “We stand at a threshold where we can state unequivocally and unapologetically that America’s travel and tourism industry is a primary driver of our nation’s economy.”
Olga Ramudo, president of Express Travel in Miami and a member of the Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, is also encouraged. “The White House ‘gets’ the importance that our industry has in creating jobs,” said Ramudo, “Not only did travel and tourism generate 120,000 jobs in 2011, but if you take a percentage of those new job-holders and their ability to travel with their companions or family, that equates to many additional travelers.”
Along with Davidson, Ramudo and other NTA members, the association was represented by Steve Richer, NTA public affairs advocate. Other items covered included visitation growth, the economic impact from international travel into the United States in the last two years, and the federal government’s recent focus on the industry, exemplified by:
- · the establishment of Brand USA as a well-funded international marketing effort for the United States
- · the completion of the National Travel and Tourism Strategy
- · the extensive activity of the Travel and Tourism Advisory Board
- · a reinvigorated Cabinet-level Tourism Policy Council, chaired by Secretaries Blank and Salazar
Another positive note discussed was the progress being made in processing visa applications and interviews faster without sacrificing security. “I am particularly pleased with the visa turnaround times in countries such as Brazil, facilitating more visitors to come to the United States,” said Ramudo, who chairs the NTA-ASTA Hispanic Business Development Task Force.
The group also discussed the expansion of the Visa Waiver Program, increasing the number of users of trusted-traveler programs to reduce customs and immigration wait times, continuing the in-flight survey research program and diversifying attendance and utilization of national parks. Davidson applauded the cooperative spirit of the industry and the administration.
“There is no doubt that our keen alignment of a mutually-shared vision and purpose is amplifying our efforts to ease the travel process, welcome more international visitors to America and create good American jobs,” he said.
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