Wicker Says Travel Bill Will Increase Tourism, Grow Economy

Budget Neutral Act Encourages Foreigners to Visit U.S.

June 29, 2009

Every year, thousands of visitors come to Mississippi to take in the many great attractions and outdoor opportunities our state has to offer.  Our musical heritage, our historic battlefields, and our world-class entertainment and parks offer wonderful opportunities to attract visitors.  Travelers from all over the country and around the world have come to realize what Mississippians have long known: there is a whole lot happening in Mississippi, and it is a great place to live and visit.

We are glad to welcome visitors to our state because the money they spend here helps create jobs and economic opportunity.  The tourism industry is the sixth largest employer in Mississippi.  Tourism in our state accounted for more than 115,000 direct and indirect jobs last year, with an annual payroll of just over $2.5 billion.  To help grow our economy now and into the future, we must continue promoting Mississippi’s attractions to travelers here in the U.S. and abroad.

                                   TRAVEL PROMOTION ACT
The Mississippi Development Authority and other state agencies do a very good job of selling Mississippi as a great place to visit and do business.  Their efforts have helped grow our state’s tourism industry and have brought new jobs to Mississippi.  To bolster their efforts and those of other states across the country, it is important to step up our efforts at marketing the U.S. to travelers from abroad.  The Senate began debating a bill last week to do just that. 

The purpose of the Travel Promotion Act – legislation I cosponsored – is to help increase travel to the U.S. by foreign tourists.  The bill establishes a public-private partnership to promote the U.S. as a travel destination in other countries.  This initiative would be jointly managed by the government and the private sector, and would be paid for by contributions from the tourism industry and a $10 fee on certain foreign travelers.  The bill would cost U.S. taxpayers nothing.  In fact, as a result of the revenue generated from the expected increase in foreign visitors, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has stated that the Travel Promotion Act will actually reduce the federal budget deficit by $425 million over the next 10 years.  

                                   LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD
This effort is needed for the U.S. to remain a competitive tourist destination for international travelers.  Nearly every other developed nation in the world has a nationally coordinated travel promotion campaign to attract international visitors, and it appears that those efforts have put us at a disadvantage.  International travel is booming, with 48 million more overseas trips booked worldwide in 2008 than in 2000.  Unfortunately, the U.S. has not participated in this travel boom, welcoming 633,000 fewer overseas visitors in 2008 than in 2000 and remaining below pre-September 11, 2001 levels of foreign visitors for the seventh consecutive year. 

As we continue working to get our economy back on track, the effort to attract more international travelers is definitely worth our while.  According to the U.S. Travel Association, overseas visitors spend an average of $4,500 per person, per trip when visiting our country.  Oxford Economics, an international economic consulting firm, estimates that a well-executed promotion campaign – similar to what would be created by the Travel Promotion Act – would attract 1.6 million new international visitors annually, generate $4 billion in new visitor spending, and generate $321 million in new federal tax revenue. 
                                   MORE JOBS, MORE REVENUE
Twenty-six years ago, President Reagan said: “Experiencing America firsthand provides outstanding educational opportunities and is terrific for personal growth.  And where in the world is there a more beautiful place to travel, have fun, and relax than in America?”  I could not agree more, and believe the same could be said about experiencing travel in Mississippi. 

Tourism is a great engine of economic growth here in Mississippi and across America.  As a nation, we should be looking for ways to open the door to more foreign tourists.  Doing so will create more jobs here at home and help fill state and federal coffers with revenue from abroad.  The Travel Promotion Act is a common sense way to help achieve this goal.