Klobuchar’s bipartisan legislation to restore Brand USA was signed into law this April
WASHINGTON – At a Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Tourism, Trade, and Export Promotion hearing titled “Examining the 2022 National Travel and Tourism Strategy,” U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), co-chair of the Congressional Tourism Caucus, highlighted how Brand USA, a public-private partnership that promotes international travel to the United States, helps strengthen Minnesota’s travel and tourism sector.
Klobuchar underscored how funding Brand USA is critical to developing a national strategy to boost the travel and tourism sectors: “We have some places that are big destinations that everyone can afford their own public relations and strategies and ads, but some can't, and it's important to have a national strategy when it comes to Brand USA.”
“One of the greatest benefits is how Brand USA allows smaller communities, rural communities…promote themselves around the world,” said Brad Dean, Vice Chair of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board and CEO of Discover Puerto Rico. “What Brand USA allows us to do, for all of us, is to tell our stories…and showcase ourselves to the global travelers that many of us wouldn't be able to reach otherwise.”
In March, Klobuchar and Senator Roy Blunt’s (R-MO) bipartisan legislation to provide support for Brand USA was signed into law by President Biden. Brand USA is not funded by taxpayer money, but rather through international visitors and private sector funding.
Klobuchar also highlighted the need to tackle the long visa processing backlogs and ongoing workforce shortages that are presenting obstacles to the travel and tourism industry. Earlier this week, Klobuchar and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) urged the Biden administration to address the current green card and visa processing backlogs to combat workforce shortages.
As co-chair of the Congressional Tourism Caucus, Klobuchar has long led efforts to support the travel and tourism industry. In March 2021, Klobuchar led her bipartisan Congressional Tourism Caucus co-chairs, Senators Blunt , Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Kevin Cramer (R-ND) in urging the Commerce Department to develop strategies that help ensure the travel and tourism industry and workforce can recover from the pandemic. The senators also emphasized the need to provide resources for Brand USA, a public-private partnership that promotes international travel to the United States, and prioritize efforts to boost international tourism.
In April, she was honored by the U.S Travel Association as its 2022 Travel Champion for her work to boost travel to and within the U.S. The same month, Klobuchar and Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Thom Tillis (R-NC) called on the Biden administration to address the current green card and visa backlogs to help meet workforce needs.
This March, she joined a bipartisan group of colleagues in urging the Biden administration to increase the number of available H-2B visas for temporary workers, which are critical to seasonal tourism businesses.
At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing last September, Klobuchar underscored the need to restore resources for Brand USA to help ease the travel and tourism industry’s economic recovery.
Last April, Klobuchar and Blunt’s bipartisan Protecting Tourism in the United States Act passed the Senate Commerce Committee. This legislation would launch a comprehensive study into the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the travel and tourism industry and identify policy recommendations for assisting the industry.
A transcript of Klobuchar’s full remarks as delivered is given below. Video is available for TV download HERE and for online viewing HERE.
Sen. Klobuchar: That's true. We have a lot of people going back and forth between our states. But with that, I want to thank our two witnesses from beautiful places that I have visited, spent some time in. And I want to first of all just start out, I know a lot of people have mentioned Brand USA and thank you to the chairwoman for her leadership on that and so many other things. But the Brand USA is a bill that Senator Blunt and I have long championed and in March we were able to restore funding to Brand USA. Mr. Dean, I know you've talked about the importance of destinations and evening the playing field. Can you talk about how important it is to keep this going? Because we have some places that are big destinations that everyone can afford their own public relations and strategies and ads, but some can't and it's important to have a national strategy when it comes to Brand USA, Mr. Dean.
Dean: Thank you, Senator. I think you've underscored to me one of the most important and perhaps under-recognized benefits of Brand USA. We can certainly point to the efficiency, the return on investment, there's no question our nation is getting a great return on its investment through Brand USA. But one of the greatest benefits is how Brand USA allows smaller communities, rural communities, regions that couldn't even with the budget promote themselves around the world. And we certainly see that in Puerto Rico, I think with some of the recent international visits that we were able to attract with influencers and media coming to help us tell the story of the recovery of Puerto Rico. They're going to the coffee haciendas in Utuado and juntas, you might never know they existed if you were an international visitor but Brand USA allows us to benefit our industry and our coffee farmers that way. They allow us to showcase communities like Cabo Rojo on the West Coast and Ponce, the glorious city on the south coast. These are unique destinations within the island that offer an extraordinary opportunity to experience the rich, vibrant culture. To live Boricua, as we like to say. And we simply could not do that even with a substantial increase in our budget. What Brand USA allows us to do, for all of us, is to tell our stories as part of those United stories and showcase ourselves to the global travelers that many of us wouldn't be able to reach otherwise. So beyond the economic impact, which is substantial and clearly proven over and over again, I think their ability to level that playing field, allowing rural communities, second tier and third tier cities that wouldn't otherwise compete to be able to accomplish that.
Sen. Klobuchar: Now, of course, you're challenging me with all the mention of places in Puerto Rico, which as I've said, I've enjoyed. You know, Mr. Hornbuckle is going to want to mention every place which I have probably visited and I, of course, you're just getting me going to want to mention Duluth and Lanesboro. And in addition to the Mall of America and many, many great places in my own state, I want to turn to something else and that is the wait times that we're seeing. Long visa wait times as we returned to international travel. And I've appreciated some of the work that's been done recently to make it easier to travel internationally. You know, right now, inbound travelers can expect to wait 702 days in Guadalajara, 354 days out of Brazil, 643 days out of Colombia and other things. And these are, of course, the international travelers, as we all know, who bring in, you know, a lot of funds and that means good for our jobs and good for our businesses in the U.S.. I know the administration is focused on increasing visa processing capacity by 40 percent in the top countries that require a visitor visa, including Brazil and India. Mr. Hornbuckle, maybe you can answer this. Do you see Congress as playing a role in helping to reduce wait times and increasing processing capacities? And do you think that would be helpful?
Hornbuckle: Unequivocally yes, Senator. Thank you for the question. Look, we just experienced July 4 in Las Vegas. Not only wait time for visa, but once you've got here to get through the process, once you landed, was another two and a half hours. And so, welcome to Las Vegas, welcome to America. Please stand in this line for two and a half hours. And so obviously anything and everything that can be done, not only to continue to fund, because resources are essentially what's behind this, but to create workplace environments where training is effective and appropriate, where people want to go to work. We've all gone through TSA. It's not a pleasant experience for the consumer, probably for most of the employees. And so to the extent we can put technology at play. Whether it's a pre visa, in some of these particularly foreign countries, we have an environment. You may know we operate a couple of properties in Macau, and before the ongoing COVID crisis and close down, many, many, many of those jurisdictions in mainland China were putting automated visas through. And so it was as simple as getting something on your phone. You had pre-qualified and you’d already gone through a process. Technology's impacted and helped our business. We now have mobile check-ins, something that COVID kind of forced. And what the reality of that is: 25 percent of the people who come to one of our resorts never touched the front desk. They then use that device for other ways around the resorts. And ultimately, it gives us the connectivity to those people for marketing to hopefully have them return to us. And so the essence and the idea that we could start at home, because the trip does start at home - the moment you decide to go. What is that process? And ultimately elevate a focus on all of it would be just something that's desperately needed at this point. I think it's been mentioned a couple of times, but 700 days for a visa is not acceptable. It's just not.
Sen. Klobuchar: Exactly. Just last here quickly, I assume there is a workforce shortage as well as we look towards immigration reform, doing something here to make sure we have workers in these jobs would also be helpful in travel and tourism.
Hornbuckle: Without a doubt, again, I mentioned a number earlier: we employ about 62,000 people. We have had, in Las Vegas alone, 5000 job openings since we came out of the COVID pandemic. We stabled up the workforce pretty quickly. But now we've hit a plateau and we've been sitting on a number like that for the better part of a year. It's a couple of things. Yes, it's economics. It's always economics at core, but there is a whole new mindset around work life balance. People in our industry work hard. They work long hours. They work mostly when people don't want to work: weekends, nights, holidays. And so training, getting people in. You know, I will tell you my story. I literally was a busboy who made it to CEO. This industry has a lot to offer and to the extent we can get people in programs for training. We do, I think, a fairly good job, both in the company and throughout some of our industries, to do that. But we just need more help. We need more support and frankly more resources to put people into effective training programs that can live and lead to lifelong careers.
Sen. Klobuchar: Exactly. Well, thank you very much to both of you. And mostly, thank you Senator Rosen for your incredible leadership. Thank you.