WASHINGTON – At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing titled “Legislative Solutions to Revive Travel and Tourism and Create Jobs,” U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), co-chair of the Senate Travel and Tourism Caucus, emphasized the need to restore funding to Brand USA, a public-private partnership that promotes international travel to the United States. She highlighted the importance of passing her legislation with Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), the Restoring Brand USA Act, which would direct the Treasury Department to allow the Commerce Department to access critical resources to support the program for Fiscal Year 2022.
Sen. Klobuchar: Thank you very much Madam Chairwoman, thank you for holding this hearing, thank you Senator Scott as well.
I’m over at Judiciary, where we are having another hearing I’m chairing, but I wanted to be on. I think you know how much I care about this. Inbound international travel has historically been the nation's second largest industry export before the pandemic, as we know we saw a 91 percent decrease in international visitors since the pandemic.
Senator Blunt and I have long led the bipartisan legislation to continue the funding of Brand USA, to restore some of the funding. And I appreciate the work that all my colleagues have been doing on this.
And Ms. Barnes, I guess I would start with you. Our bill would direct the Secretary of Treasury to temporarily allow the Department of Commerce to access critical funding to help fund Brand USA next year as the travel industry starts to rebound, the recent announcement of allowing international travelers in with vaccinations. Can you speak to the importance of restoring Brand USA?
Ms. Barnes: Absolutely Senator, thank you for the question and for your significant leadership on this important issue. I think one of the benefits of Brand USA is really that it’s been funded without American taxpayer dollars and the solution that you all have found would enable that to continue. Investments in Brand USA provided 25 to 1 in return on investment, so we know that the dollars are being put to good use. And as you noted, the decline in international inbound has been so significant for such a long period of time, for 18 months, that if we are going to be a number one country, the number one destination of the future, we absolutely need Brand USA to accelerate their work and to be able to invite intentional travelers back to the U.S.
Sen. Klobuchar: You’d think it would be especially timely because you want to invite a new group back in, some of whom haven’t been traveling for a while. We always have the problem that we have competitors advertising, and until we had Brand USA, as you know, we were really hamstrung about what we could do. So as you talked, it made me realize the moment matters, as people start traveling again, we want them to remember to come to our country, where they spend an average of how much, Ms. Barnes?
Ms. Barnes: An average of $4,000 per international visitor.
Sen. Klobuchar: The Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.
Ms. Barnes: Exactly, shopping is important.
Sen. Klobuchar: I have another question, the recent announcement was great, and maybe this can go to I think maybe you, Mr. Shah, about people flying in and vaccinations, we’re all happy about that. There is still a strange situation on my border, the Canadian border, where we were happy – I worked really hard on this as head of the American-Canadian Inter-Parliamentary Group, to get, Minnesotans and Americans, can now with vaccinations, can now travel to Canada. They can see their loved ones, they stay in hotels. Well, now they can fly to America, the Canadians, who have an over 80 percent vaccination rate, but they can’t drive. And I was thinking of you, Mr. Shah, because especially from a hotel perspective, this is a problem because you can fly to Florida from Montreal, but you can't drive from Thunder Bay Canada to Duluth, so you can imagine all the border states would like the Biden administration to change that, I'm hopeful they will soon. But there's a group of us on the border really advocating for that change, especially when their vaccination rate is higher than ours. Could you comment, Mr. Shah?
Mr. Shah: I appreciate that, and as someone who grew up in Wisconsin right next door, I definitely understand the proximity and the frustration, especially where if you can fly, but you can't drive across, in some cases it can take hours versus just a couple of minutes to come across the border. So we’re hoping with the opening up of the travel restrictions from the administration, we’ll be in a better position. But I'll tell you the most important thing that we can do for the hotel industry right now is to pass the Save Hotel Jobs Act. This is such a critical provision that would provide payroll benefits to hotel employees so they're able to make it across until travel resumes. So definitely understand the challenges that we’re facing, but hopefully this will protect the hotel industry soon.
Sen. Klobuchar: Okay well thank you, I’ll put the rest of my questions for the other witnesses on the record. Thank you very much Madam Chair.
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