Klobuchar’s bipartisan legislation to restore Brand USA was signed into law by President Biden in April
WASHINGTON – At a Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Tourism, Trade, and Export Promotion hearing titled “Reviving Conventions & Tourism Through International Travel,” U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), co-chair of the Congressional Tourism Caucus, emphasized the critical role that Brand USA, a public-private partnership that promotes international travel to the United States, plays in boosting the economy and supporting the travel and tourism industry in Minnesota.
“Minnesota has missed out on nearly $12 billion dollars in travel spending since 2019. And we know behind those numbers are thousands and thousands of workers. So, that's one of the reasons Senator Blunt and I work so hard on the Restoring Brand USA Act which was signed into law in March,” said Klobuchar. “Brand USA, as we know, has been very successful and has added over $50 billion to our economy since 2013, [and has] supported [even] more jobs.”
“Thank you as well, Senator, for your tremendous leadership on Brand USA…Brand USA historically has a return on investment of twenty-five to one which is really, really significant and highlights very much the impact it has on the economy,” said Tori Barnes, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy at U.S. Travel, “Without Brand USA, we would be far less competitive… Brand USA acts as an ambassador to go out and bring those international visitors here to the U.S.”
In March 2022, Klobuchar and Senator Roy Blunt’s 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 underscored the need for solutions such as increasing visas to address workforce shortages in the travel and tourism sectors, including seasonal tourism businesses.
“What we need are really long term solutions for the way to fill the pipeline…the kind of workers that can grow into our industry and often that means they are, they may be immigrants. They may be others that may need visas, but they may be here in another way and we need to excite those who've left the industry to come back at a time when it felt like it was on shaky ground,” said Suzanne Neufang, CEO of the Global Business Travel Association.
In April, 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. In 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.
As co-chair of the Congressional Tourism Caucus, Klobuchar has long led efforts to support the travel and tourism industry. 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.
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.
Last March, Klobuchar led her bipartisan Congressional Tourism Caucus co-chairs, Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO), 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.
Sen. Klobuchar: Well, thank you so much, Senator Rosen. It's good to see many friends here and follow not just Senator Rosen, who so ably leads this subcommittee, but also Senator Blunt. Just a little bit of my home state right now we are home to exceptional travel destinations from Lake Superior to the Mall of America. But even Minnesota has missed out on nearly $12 billion dollars in travel spending since 2019. And we know behind those numbers are thousands and thousands of workers. So, that's one of the reasons Senator Blunt and I work so hard on the Restoring Brand USA Act which was signed into law in March. And why we worked, all of us did, during the pandemic on funding for tourism. So my first question is about Brand USA. Ms. Barnes, you noted in your testimony, by the end of last year, international inbound travel spending was still down 78 percent. Brand USA, as we know, has been very successful and has added I think something over $50 billion to our economy since 2013, supported more jobs - can you speak to how restoring Brand USA will continue to support our national economy?
Barnes: Yes, thank you for the question. And thank you as well, Senator, for your tremendous leadership on Brand USA - not only working with Senator Blunt on the reauthorization, but this real emergency funding that's been so important for our economy. Brand USA historically has a return on investment of twenty-five to one which is really, really significant and highlights very much the impact it has on the economy. Without Brand USA, we would be far less competitive, because as you know, we are the only G20 country that doesn't have a tourism minister and one of the reasons we need to have an Assistant Secretary dedicated to that. But Brand USA acts as an ambassador to go out and bring those international visitors here to the U.S. and that incremental benefit is really important. And I will just underscore with this as well, if we can eliminate the pre-departure testing, as I just noted, coupling that with Brand USA right now. Again, if we eliminate pre-departure testing in June, in this month, we could add an additional 5.4 million visitors and $9 billion in travel spending.
Sen. Klobuchar: How about one other thing: long visa wait times in some of the biggest markets for international travel to the U.S. I remember when we did this long ago, took this on, some with Brand USA, some with the remote capabilities, but I'm looking at places like 702 day wait out of certain parts of Mexico, 354 days Brazil, 643 days Colombia, just to give you a sense.
Barnes: We really need to push the State Department. I mean they've done it before in an average of 12 days and they can do that again. Right now the average wait time across the countries is over 400 days. And in 2019 43 percent of the $79 billion dollars in spending that came into the U.S. internationally - those came from countries that require a visa. So we have to get those wait times down. It is a de facto border closure.
Sen. Klobuchar: Exactly. I still remember when Tom Nides, who's now the Ambassador to Israel, was number two in the State Department and I had given them these facts and the whole of this numbers that we've gotten together, Senator Rosen. And one morning at like 7am he called me, on my cell phone, and he's like: “Oh my god, like he'd finally looked at it and saw those waits.” So I do think we have to push this because it's an economic issue, as is something that was raised and is related, which is the workforce shortage. Ms. Neufang, in your testimony, you mentioned that staffing shortages are one of the biggest problems facing business travel or in my state. What more can we do on the workforce?
Neufang: Thank you for that question, Senator Klobuchar. Certainly what we've seen is between 67 and 68 percent of all suppliers are having difficulty hiring enough staff. And that is disruptive for our business travelers at the basics when there's nobody to check them in, either in an airport or at a hotel. And it's also indicative that in some ways, they're competing for the same workforce, which isn't fair to any of the great suppliers in our industry. So, what we need are really long term solutions for the way to fill the pipeline, is the way we say it within a product environment, that we need to fill the pipeline with the kind of workers that can grow into our industry and often that means they are, they may be immigrants. They may be others that may need visas, but they may be here in another way and we need to excite those who've left the industry to come back at a time when it felt like it was on shaky ground. And certainly what we know from government assistance is that there was a lot of great support for suppliers in our industry - that shaky ground didn't last forever. And now we need to bring those same, those same workers back and excited about this great industry that offers so much talent.
Sen. Klobuchar: Okay, thank you. Yeah, thank you. I would like to ask Mr. Cutie a question but I'll put it in writing and I just want to mention, as you know, Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, one of the best in the country over and over again, yours is pretty good, too. But that workforce shortage we all just talked about - it's a problem for everyone. And that's why I strongly support some comprehensive immigration reform. I don't think there's another way to get around it when I have an unemployment rate in my state of 2.5 percent. And I was at the airport with my daughter on Friday night for two and a half hours changing her flight. So let's just say I know from personal experience at the lines, and it is a lot of workforce issues in addition to some other ones with the airlines right now. But I will let that go and I want to thank you all and look forward to working with you on solutions.