TO: Cornerstone Clients
FROM: Cornerstone Government Affairs
SUBJECT: Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation’s Subcommittee on Tourism, Trade, and Export Promotion
HEARING: “Examining the 2022 National Travel and Tourism Strategy”
DATE: July 13, 2022
On Tuesday, July 12, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation’s Subcommittee on Tourism, Trade, and Export Promotion convened a hearing to discuss the Department of Commerce’s recently published strategy to strengthen the global competitiveness of our nation’s travel and tourism industry and make it more sustainable and resilient. The hearing focused on ways that the U.S. can cut visa wait times and other barriers to travel as well as how to promote and showcase travel to the U.S. The hearing also focused on challenges facing the tourism industry due to the workforce shortage and need to rebuild critical infrastructure.
- Grant Harris – Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Industry and Analysis, Department of Commerce
- William “Bill” Hornbuckle – President and CEO, MGM Resorts International, Testifying in his capacity as the Chair of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board (TTAB)
- Brad Dean – CEO, Discover Puerto Rico, Testifying in his capacity as the Vice Chair of the Travel and Tourism Advisory Board (TTAB)
Members in Attendance
Chair Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Full Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ranking Member Rick Scott (R-FL), Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK)
Overview of the Tourism and Travel Strategy
Sen. Scott said that in Florida, one in every six jobs is tied to the tourism industry. Mr. Dean said that similarly, Puerto Rico’s economy is also heavily reliant on travel and tourism and advocated for the thorough review and implementation of the presented industry strategy. Mr. Harris said that the strategy will support a more robust, sustainable, and resilient travel industry going forward. Mr. Hornbuckle and Mr. Dean applauded the strategy for being a product of extensive and thoughtful collaboration with ambitious goals for the tourism and travel industry. They both emphasized that implementation of the strategy is the next real step stating that simplifying and improving the efficiency of pathways into and out of the country is an important aspect of the strategy that will be difficult but needs to be fulfilled. Mr. Hornbuckle said that the strategy promotes plans to host major events in the U.S. which is putting the U.S. back on track in the tourism industry. Mr. Hornbuckle said that international business travel is just starting to come back now that the COVID-19 testing requirement has been lifted. Mr. Dean said that the strategy creates ambitious goals recognizing the potential to establish a seamless, secure, efficient, and touchless travel process which would revolutionize the U.S. travel experience.
Sens. Rosen and Scott emphasized the importance of strong collaboration among relevant agencies and with private stakeholders to ensure thorough implementation of the strategy. They commended the strategy for including the territories in addition to the states and working to streamline collaboration between relevant stakeholders. Mr. Harris said that cooperation amongst different government agencies is crucial to address challenges facing the industry such as the workforce shortages and visa issues. Sen. Rosen advocated for better collaboration with the federal government to help facilitate the bidding process for hosting conventions and other large international events in the U.S. Mr. Hornbuckle stated that Las Vegas’ hosting of Formula One is a great example of the type of event that can be hosted in the U.S. which can bring major tourism.
Sens. Rosen, Scott, and Sullivan advocated strongly for the Visit America Act which would create an Assistant Secretary of Commerce, approved by the Senate, dedicated solely to the tourism industry. Sen. Sullivan commended the TTAB on their work and advocated for making the board permanent. Mr. Hornbuckle and Mr. Dean agreed that both decisions would be beneficial to the industry by allowing greater ownership within the federal government of the important issues facing the tourism industry. Sens. Rosen and Klobuchar advocated for supporting small businesses in the tourism industry. Sens. Klobuchar and Rosen applauded the success of BrandUSA and emphasized the importance of continued funding for the program to ensure that smaller communities have access to tools to market themselves to global travelers. Mr. Harris said that Brand USA is playing a crucial role in promoting travel to the U.S. as well as ongoing collaboration between all levels of government and relevant stakeholders. Sen. Rosen also advocated for the potential for the State Expansion Program to help small businesses. Mr. Harris said that small businesses are important to the travel and tourism industry and that the Department of Commerce is committed to supporting them by providing funds and access to help with export development and expansion into international markets. Additionally, Mr. Harris stated that commercial service officers are another resource for small businesses to support their marketing to increase international visitation.
Sens. Rosen and Hickenlooper advocated strongly for aspects of the strategy focused on improving sustainability particularly for outdoor ecotourism. Mr. Harris said that the strategy is meant to highlight the offerings of the outdoors in the U.S. He added that Economic Development Administration grants from the American Rescue Plan have been supportive of outdoor recreation. Sen. Hickenlooper raised concerns over the impacts of climate change on the tourism industry and in particular the ski industry. Mr. Harris said that the strategy factors in climate changes heavily and is committed to decarbonization by investing in electric vehicles, charging stations, and sustainable fuel sources, as well as by working with local communities to create sustainable tourism. Sen. Hickenlooper also raised concerns about the high fees for recreational use of national forests by ski resorts and advocated for providing more financial support for Colorado’s national forests to provide maintenance and sustainability needs.
Sens. Rosen and Scott raised concerns over the need to improve infrastructure to support the tourism industry. Mr. Dean said that the federal government has an important role in facilitating the bidding process for major events. He added that anything that Congress can do to accelerate the rebuilding of infrastructure in Puerto Rico is extremely important not just to the tourism industry but also to future of the territory. Mr. Hornbuckle stated that he is extremely concerned about the lack of water in Lake Mead in Nevada and encouraged that Congress does everything it can to ensure critical resources continue to be available to residents and visitors. Sen. Rosen raised concerns about the lack of access to broadband in Puerto Rico and overall struggle to rebuild crucial infrastructure. She advocated for increasing broadband connectivity across the U.S. to support the tourism industry as it expands in more remote destinations. Mr. Dean said that having sufficient networks and infrastructure not only levels the playing field but opens the potential to host greater events and further develop the economy.
Visa Wait Times & other Travel Barriers
Sens. Rosen, Scott, and Klobuchar raised concerns about long visa wait times for international travelers to the U.S. Mr. Hornbuckle said that in addition to the visa wait times prior to travel, international travelers must also wait in long lines at the airport upon arrival in the U.S. which gives travelers a poor experience. Sen. Scott brought up concerns over flight delays, cancellations, and other travel disruptions. Mr. Harris said that the labor shortage is a large concern, and they are working with industry to solve the challenge both in the short term and long term by creating career pathways and apprenticeship programs. Sen. Scott shared concerns about the difficulty of attaining a work visa and the challenges it presents to seasonal workers and employers who rely on those workers. Mr. Harris said that the Department of Commerce is working closely with the State Department to improve this progress because so many organizations rely on these visas for seasonal workers. Mr. Harris said that reducing visa wait times is a major goal as many embassies and consulates closed during the pandemic and the State Department is only now working to reopen and restaff them. Sen. Rosen advocated improving efficiencies in TSA checkpoints in particularly by establishing a one stop security pilot program and eliminating second rounds of screening for individuals with transfer flights who are coming from certain foreign airports. Mr. Harris said that the strategy notes some of these pilot programs and the Department of Commerce is working closely with the Department of Homeland Security to make the travel experience as efficient as possible. Sen. Rosen also emphasized the importance of the visa waiver program in reducing delays and advocated for expanding the program by adding Israel. Sen. Rosen applauded the inclusion of additional resources for federal agencies in the strategy to promote translating public materials into multiple languages and braille to simplify air travel for international travelers. Sen. Rosen advocated for the TRANSLATE Act which would require the TSA to improve signage at major airports. Mr. Harris agreed and said that increasing accessibility is one of the key pillars of the strategy.
Sen. Scott advocated for safely easing COVID-19 requirements for the cruise industry. Mr. Harris said that Sec. Raimondo is focused on ensuring there is a balanced perspective between maintaining public health and ensuring economic and job security. Mr. Harris said that the Cruise Lines International Association is planning to have nearly all their memberships back in the water by the end of the summer and resume normal operations.
Support for the Tourism Workforce
Sens. Rosen, Scott, Hickenlooper, and Klobuchar raised concerns about the workforce shortage. Mr. Hornbuckle said that the tourism industry has a lot to offer but it needs more resources for developing and enrolling people into training programs which can lead to lifelong careers in the tourism industry. Sen. Rosen raised concerns that the pandemic worsened barriers to enter the industry particularly for women. Sens. Rosen and Hickenlooper advocated for the importance of providing the workforce with access to childcare, affordable housing, and reliable transportation. Mr. Harris said that supporting the workforce is crucial and the strategy includes many recommendations to support the workforce regarding housing, career pathway programs, reliable worker transportation, and family care access.