Chairman Rockefeller Remarks on Tourism in America: Removing Barriers and Promoting Growth

April 5, 2011

Chairman RockefellerWASHINGTON, D.C.—Good morning. I want to thank Senator Klobuchar for holding this important hearing today. Travel and tourism represent a significant part of America’s economy, supporting millions of jobs, and bringing in billions of dollars of revenue. But the U.S. travel industry has taken a hit in the last decade.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 and skyrocketing gas prices are just a few factors that have resulted in fewer visitors to our shores. Airlines, hotels and cruises have lost revenue, and the tourism industry was forced to shed jobs. 

Between 2000 and 2009, while global international travel exploded, travel to the U.S. lagged behind. According to the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), in 2009, we had 2.4 million fewer overseas visitors than in 2000, a decline that cost our economy more than $500 billion in total spending.

Recognizing the threat this continued decline would pose to America’s fragile economy, this Committee initiated legislation, the Travel Promotion Act of 2009, designed to turn this trend around. The legislation, which was signed into law last year, sets up a national tourism board, known as the Corporation for Travel Promotion, to promote the United States as a top travel destination and work with relevant federal agencies to streamline visa applications and entry policies. It is estimated to generate $4 billion in new visitor spending, create 40,000 new jobs annually and reduce the federal budget deficit by more than $400 million over the next 10 years.

Today, the tourism industry is on the road to recovery with record international travelers in 2010. This trend must be encouraged. Every additional dollar spent by overseas visitors supports new jobs and economic growth.

I look forward to hearing from the Corporation about its plans to promote and drum up interest in travel to the United States. A key component of the Corporation’s task is to promote tourism to every corner of our nation—not just the well-known sites—and to expose visitors to the wonders of America’s small towns and rural communities. 

I know that my own home state of West Virginia has so much to offer: from snowy mountaintops to quick, whitewater rapids. And it is my hope that the U.S. travel and tourism industry will creatively and successfully find ways to boost travel to the many wonderful corners of my state and many others.

I’d like to again thank our witnesses for being here today. Increasing international travel and tourism is an essential component of our economic recovery—with the power to spur our economy and create and preserve millions of good-paying jobs. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about how we can work together to realize the promise and potential of boosting international travel to our shores.