Representatives from across the travel industry gathered in Washington on Tuesday to kick off a three-day event aimed at getting key industry issues heard by congressional leaders amid the loud partisan rhetoric of an election year.
"This is not a partisan issue," said Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), who in November introduced the Visit USA Act (H.R. 3341/S. 1746), which allows Chinese visitors to apply for five-year multiple-entry visas as opposed to one-year multiple entry visas, among other initiatives aimed at making it easier for international visitors to come to the U.S.
Hirono's sentiment, which she expressed during a luncheon meeting here, was the rally cry from travel industry leaders participating in the Grassroots Congressional Summit, an event sponsored by the National Tour Association, Destination Marketing Association International and the Southeast Tourism Society.
These organizations were hoping to get congressional leaders to commit to issues like easing visa restrictions and maintaining funding for the Brand USA campaign and the national parks.
"We think this is the tourism renaissance," said Steve Richer, public affairs advocate for NTA. "Tourism has worked its way up in the dialogue in Washington, D.C."
There does appear to be unprecedented momentum behind inbound travel and tourism efforts at the federal level, with the passage of the Travel Promotion Act, President Obama's executive order in January to increase inbound U.S. tourism by expediting U.S. visa processing and the launch of Brand USA as the first national tourism campaign.
But the industry faces the challenge of maintaining momentum during a presidential election year, when issues that at their surface seem non-partisan somehow become politicized.