Many in the rebounding travel and tourism industry are hailing the re-election of President Barack Obama as a boon for the sector.
One of the first to praise him was Taleb Rifai, secretary general of the UN World Tourism Organization. He said the administration “has clearly understood the impact of tourism on the economy and jobs,” citing Obama’s work in promoting visa facilitation.
UNWTO figures from the third quarter of 2012 show tourism earnings in the U.S. up 8 percent, second in the world only to Hong Kong's growth. U.S. expenditure on travel abroad, meanwhile, was up by 9 percent.
This is a far cry from the state of the industry a few years ago.
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The restructuring of airline safety after Sept. 11, 2001, with its stringent security procedures, dealt a blow to the travel and tourism industry, and the weak economy after 2008 only made things worse. While the international travel industry flourished, fewer people chose the United States as a destination, at a loss of billions of dollars in visitor spending.
Noting U.S. Travel Association estimates that for every 35 foreign visitors, one new American job is created, Obama put travel and tourism on the agenda as a potential economy-booster in 2009 and signed the Travel Promotion Act into law in March 2010. The U.S. secretary of commerce then appointed an 11-member board of directors to govern a public-private partnership called Brand USA that was charged with inspiring travelers to “Discover America.”
The team began with exhaustive research, looking at existing promotions from local tourism boards and old agencies like the underfunded and inefficient United States Travel and Tourism Administration, which ended in 1996. Brand USA filled in the gaps with its own studies and by 2012, the marketing team had painted a picture of international travelers' barriers and motivators.
On May 1, Brand USA launched its inaugural campaign in Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom with the first wave of print, television and billboard advertisements bearing the message: Discover this land, like never before.
The first part of the campaign, Brand USA's Chief Marketing Officer Chris Perkins said, actively asked people to visit. The second, he said, was a challenge: Look at us from a fresh perspective.
Beyond fixing America’s image abroad with a marketing campaign -- which is subsidized by a new $14 charge on foreign visitors and contributions from the likes of Walt Disney, Best Western and Marriott -- the Obama administration pushed for more pro-tourism initiatives like easing waiting times in China for travel visas. The president also laid out plans to ease restrictions for non-immigrant visas for residents of India and Brazil, programs many believed would have been curtailed under a Mitt Romney administration.
Critics, however, believe Obama's push for reduced government travel and per-diem spending for government employees has hurt the industry.
Nevertheless, the U.S. Travel Association believes growth in business, domestic and international inbound tourism next year will likely add nearly 100,000 American jobs.
“The focus of this election season has been how to put Americans back to work, and our industry is uniquely capable of adapting to economic upswings and creating jobs,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.
Dow called on the administration and Congress to draft a plan for economic recovery that drives significant increases in travel.
According to David Huether, senior vice president of economics and research at the U.S. Travel Association, the industry leads the economy in job growth, having created jobs 16 percent faster than the rest of the economy since the overall employment recovery began in March 2010.
“The travel industry is twice as export-intensive as the rest of the economy and supports millions of middle-class jobs that cannot be outsourced,” he said. “These unique qualities have made the travel industry a top performer in the current recovery.”
With Obama back at the helm, many are hopefully for more growth in travel and tourism over the next four years.