US Department of Commerce Will Invest $750 Million in Travel and Tourism

The U.S. Department of Commerce will soon announce a $750 million investment in travel and tourism, according to Gina Raimondo, the department secretary, speaking on a virtual forum conducted by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA).

Also at the forum, Chris Thompson, CEO of Brand USA, which promotes international tourism to the U.S., said the organization plans its first marketing campaign since the pandemic began to begin Aug. 1 with the message that this country is ready for tourists to visit.

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Raimondo said she is hopeful for a reasonably robust summer for leisure travel but added, “there’s a long way to go.” She said wants the federal money to be used flexibly “because tourism is local and has local needs” with some states perhaps spending it on convention centers, others on recreation and still others on marketing.

The secretary also said the administration is working very hard to get Congress to pass the American Jobs Plan, which she called “very relevant’ to travel as it involves infrastructure, jobs, training, parks and clean water – all very relevant to travel.

“I look forward to working with the industry,” said Raimondo. “I know better days are ahead for leisure and business travel.”

As for business travel, Raimondo said she is doing everything she can as an advocate to open key travel corridors to business travelers. She said there are safe ways to travel, particularly for those who are vaccinated.

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“I will do everything I can,” she said, “to revitalize domestic and international business travel through agencies that report to me.” She said easing travel restrictions is a top priority of hers and the administration and promises that “we are collaborating across the government to do everything we can to ease travel restrictions safely.”

Thompson said he is more optimistic than at any time since the start of the pandemic and “encouraged by some conversations I have had.” While he said many of the restrictions on travel to the U.S. from abroad are out of Brand USA’s control, he added that “things are happening.” While Europe outside the U.K. has lagged as far as dealing with the pandemic, Thompson said proof of vaccination will be critical and “we will have to settle on something standard on that front.”

When it does begin marketing, said Thompson, Brand USA will seek to show potential travelers in other countries that Americans themselves are getting out and about. “As international visitors see us traveling, “ he said, “they will see that it is safe to do so.” He said it is critical to get the land borders open to Mexico and Canada because 50% of the 80 million annual international visitors to the U.S. are from those two countries while the U.K. represents the largest long-haul market.

He said Brand USA will be inviting influencers from around the world to come in and experience the U.S., “something that can happen now.” He continued, “We want to fuel aspiration and dreams.” The domestic return to travel, said Thompson, has been more powerful than expected and he expects the same for international travel once it resumes.

Sixty percent of the travel industry economy, said Thompson, is non-leisure, including meetings and events. He said that smaller groups are returning, and many major shows are going live, including Brand USA Travel Week, scheduled for London in October; and U.S. Travel Association’s IPW, set for Las Vegas in September.

Thompson pointed to New Orleans as a role model for restarting events. He said that industry representatives had taken public officials into meeting spaces to show how they can be safe and healthy.

Brand USA, said Thompson, has seen its source of funding collapse. That source is the ESTA (electronic system for travel authorization) fees paid by applicants for visas from the visa waiver countries. However, he said, in 2019 the organization had not been sure of being renewed soi t had built up reserves which enabled it to survive the crisis. It was, however, renewed early in 2020.

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