By: Bill Swenson
Bemidji Pioneer

A bill to promote international travel to the United States was approved Wednesday by the U.S. Senate.

Spearheaded by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., chairwoman of the U.S. Commerce Committee panel that oversees the U.S. tourism industry, hailed the bill has a jobs creation bill in an industry that has an $11 billion annual impact in Minnesota.

The Travel Promotion Act passed on a 79-19 vote.

“Tourism is a powerful engine for job creation and economic growth, both in Minnesota and nationally, but today the travel industry is facing many challenges,” said Klobuchar in a statement.

“By passing the Travel Promotion Act, we will not only boost the tourism industry, but our economy,” she said. “We passed a bill today that will promote the U.S. abroad, create jobs and stimulate economic growth, with no cost to taxpayers.”

Klobuchar has been an advocate for the millions of Americans who work in the tourism industry, chairing a Senate hearing on tourism in Washington, holding field hearings in Minnesota, including Bemidji, and speaking repeatedly on the Senate floor about the need to pass the Travel Promotion Act. Klobuchar is a co-sponsor of the bipartisan legislation and helped push it through both the Senate Commerce Committee and the full Senate.

“Since 9/11 we’ve lost 20 percent of the international tourism market in this country,” Klobuchar said in a July 1 roundtable discussion in Bemidji. “That has little to do with the economy right now, as the trend really started with visa restrictions and how difficult it was for people to come visit,”

The average amount of money spent by a foreign tourist in the United States is $4,500, she said. “It’s one of our biggest exports — it’s something we’re bringing in, and not sending money out.”

The bill, which now moves to the U.S. House where a similar version was approved last year, establishes a public-private partnership to promote the United States as a premier international travel destination. The legislation calls for travel promotion to be paid for by private sector contributions and a $10 fee on foreign travelers’ visas who enter the United States.

Canadian citizens are exempt from the fee. Other countries charge a similar fee, sometimes $20 to $25.

The bill, which requires no money from the American taxpayer, is estimated to attract 1.6 million new international visitors to the country and add $4 billion to the U.S. economy. An analysis by the U.S. Travel Association states that the program would create nearly 40,000 new American jobs.

Additionally, a report by the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill will reduce the budget deficit by $425 million over the next 10 years, Klobuchar said.