Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012 | 2:01 a.m.
Increasing American exports is good for American businesses and workers. And while it’s often overlooked, travel and tourism represents a quarter of our service exports, with the potential to contribute much more.
In 2010, President Barack Obama led the historic effort to pass the Travel Promotion Act in Congress in order to re-energize our economy and reverse what was known as the “lost decade” for travel and tourism to the United States. Passed by Congress and signed by the president, it created a new public-private partnership, called Brand USA — funded with no taxpayer dollars — that provides crucial marketing support to help the United States compete with other countries that fund aggressive campaigns to promote their countries to international travelers.
As the founding chairman of Brand USA, I know that good policy in Washington can energize private-sector growth and job creation all across America. Obama understood then what many of us in the travel industry have always known: Tourism equals spending, which creates good jobs that cannot be outsourced. Tourism clearly matters, and will continue to matter, to this president.
We are seeing dramatic results. Since the president took office, visitor numbers from the lucrative overseas market to the United States continue to improve.
Compared with 2008, overseas arrivals to the United States in 2011 increased 10 percent and are projected to be 17 percent higher by the end of this year.
Studies have shown that one American job is created for every 33 overseas travelers; over the past 30 months, the travel industry has created nearly 300,000 jobs.
In Nevada, 447,000 jobs were supported by international travelers in 2011, more than 30 percent of all private-industry employees in the state. In fact, travel and tourism has generated 12 percent of our economy’s export gain in 2012, larger than agriculture, the film industry or auto manufacturing.
A major barrier to increasing the number of overseas visitors has been an outdated and cumbersome U.S. visa system, which traditionally has produced long waiting times and frustrated travelers.
International travelers from key markets such as Brazil and China used to face delays of up to 140 days in waiting for a visa.
Following Herculean efforts by the State Department and Department of Homeland Security, wait times are down to two days in Brazil and four days or less in China. Faster visas mean more international travelers to the United States, which boosts local businesses and creates jobs. Here in Nevada, the number of Chinese visitors has doubled since 2008, and the number of Brazilian visitors has more than tripled.
In 2010, the 1.2 million Brazilians who visited the United States spent an average of $4,940 each at travel destinations, restaurants, hotels, boutiques and many other businesses. That translated into nearly $6 billion in spending, which supported 42,000 U.S. jobs. In the first year of visa reform alone, we are on track to hit a record $169 billion in spending by international travelers.
The impact of this increase is felt all over the country. In Orlando, traveler spending rose almost 12 percent to a record high in 2011, translating to $50 billion in total economic output and more than 224,000 jobs.
Unfortunately, the Ryan Budget, proposed by the Republican vice presidential nominee and supported by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, would eliminate all funding for even smart, effective programs like Brand USA, which benefit our economy without costing taxpayers a dime. Thankfully, the Obama administration continues to champion the effort to promote greater travel and tourism to the United States and, in the process, re-invigorate our economy.
Stephen J. Cloobeck is chairman and CEO of Diamond Resorts International.