After all the politics and posturing associated with the $1.7 trillion government funding package, it can be easy to miss some of the budget line items in the 4,155-page bill. We’re happy to report that the omnibus spending bill includes big wins for both travelers and the travel industry.
Among the highlights is a new assistant secretary of travel and tourism position within the U.S. Department of Commerce that will focus on the country’s $1.1 trillion travel industry.
“This is a tremendous win for travelers, the travel industry, and America’s economy,” U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Geoff Freeman says. “Thanks to a bipartisan and bicameral group of Congressional leaders, the United States will now join all G20 countries with a senior federal official focused on travel.”
The new position “will play an important role as we partner with government to lower visitor visa wait times, modernize security screening, and leverage new technologies to make travel more seamless and secure,” Freeman added.
The USTA has been a leading advocate for this new federal position — which the association says will underscore the industry’s positive impact on the U.S. economy and help America rebuild its global competitiveness.
The travel industry developments are part of the bipartisan Omnibus Travel and Tourism Act introduced by Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.
Rosen’s office outlined the additional legislation travel features as formally authorizing a U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, collecting data on domestic travel and tourism, mandating the development of a national travel and tourism strategy every 10 years, and reporting on the effects of the pandemic on the travel and tourism industry. Rosen’s office further noted that before now, there hadn’t been anyone in the federal government responsible for developing and coordinating a national tourism strategy. The bill will now establish this for the first time.
The travel component of the spending bill will also provide congressional oversight to address excessive visa wait times that are now averaging more than 400 days for visitor visa appointments. The U.S. Travel Association forecasts that in 2023, U.S. businesses will attract 6.6 million fewer international visitors and lose $11.6 billion in spending; this is because international travelers cannot obtain visitor visas in time to travel to the U.S. due to these excessive wait times.
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The bill just passed in the Senate ahead of the Friday deadline and is expected to pass in the House of Representatives as soon as tonight; it will then be sent to President Joe Biden for his approval. The president is expected to sign it soon after it arrives on his desk.