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Public Statements

Travel Promotion Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. MARTINEZ. Madam President, this week the Senate will be considering the Travel Promotion Act, which is an important bill for my home State of Florida.

Every year, millions of tourists travel to the United States from overseas, helping our economy, generating revenues for States and communities, and creating job opportunities for millions of Americans. But for most of this last decade there has been a huge dropoff in visitors to the United States from other countries. Between 2000 and 2008, the U.S. tourism industry has experienced an estimated 58 million lost arrivals, $182 billion in lost spending, $27 billion in lost tax receipts, and $47 billion in lost payroll. We have also lost 245,000 jobs. One in eight Americans is directly or indirectly employed by the travel industry. The industry contributes $1.3 trillion to the U.S. economy, and the industry contributes $115 billion in tax revenue.

In Florida, home to Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, many beautiful beaches, the Everglades, some of the best fishing and snorkeling in the world, and the oldest settlements in North America, the tourism industry employs no less than 750,000 Floridians and accounts for nearly 25 percent of all of the State's sales tax collections. Last year, the United States had 633,000 fewer international travelers than we had in the year 2000. Florida has taken a harder hit, losing 1.3 million visitors over that same period of time.

Numbers do not lie. Our lack of attention to self-promotion is costing us money, jobs, and opportunities. And it is not that people are not traveling. The fact is, people are traveling to some destinations other than the United States. The world competition for the travel dollar is keen. Countries all over the world are doing all they can to attract visitors to their countries. We are competing in a world marketplace.

This is an alarming trend we are seeing in the United States, and it clearly hurts our economy. But it also has an impact on our image around the world. Studies show a person's opinion of our country is greatly improved when they visit our country. We are our own best ambassadors. But when fewer people visit here, there are fewer opportunities for others to see what our Nation has to offer and what we are all about. So increased travel to the United States is not only good for our Nation, it is also good for the way in which we portray ourselves to the world.

One of the best ways to address this is to create a comprehensive campaign to promote the United States as a travel destination. This is a way of reversing this current trend. This is a way of bringing back some of the declines to a better day so we can increase jobs and opportunities in our country.

Here is an example of what other nations spend to promote themselves in the tourism market around the world. Here is what we are competing against. This is what the United States is up against as we look to compete for the travel dollar. Our close neighbor of Mexico spent $149 million promoting travel to Mexico. Our other close neighbor, Canada, spent $58 million in promoting travel to its country. China spent $60 million in promoting travel to its country. Australia spent $113 million. The countries of the European Union collectively spent $800 million on self-promotion. How much has the United States spent? We have spent absolutely nothing. We spend nothing in promoting our tourism.

For years, sectors within the agricultural industry have used so-called checkoff programs to promote their products. We have heard the slogans: ``Pork, the other white meat.'' ``Beef, it's what's for dinner.'' ``Milk, it does a body good.'' These are familiar slogans created by industry-sponsored campaigns. Producers kick in their own money to create a marketing campaign that benefits all producers. We need the same thing for our tourism, which is why I urge my colleagues to support moving forward on the Travel Promotion Act. It will benefit our economy, it will complement our Nation's diplomatic efforts and, perhaps most importantly, it will help to create new jobs.

The Travel Promotion Act will enable the United States to become its own ambassador by establishing a public-private campaign to promote tourism abroad. The campaign would be led by an independent, not-for-profit corporation governed by an 11-member board of individuals appointed by the Secretary of Commerce. Each would represent the various regions around the Nation and bring their expertise in promoting international travel. The program will not use taxpayer money but will instead rely on user fees paid by foreign tourists and in-kind contributions from corporate partners.

Additionally, the act will increase coordination among the Commerce, State, and Homeland Security Departments to streamline the entry and departure procedures for our foreign tourists. You see, not only are we not promoting ourselves, we are also doing a lot to complicate travel to our country. Because of those things which were done as a necessity post-9/11, we have created a lot of layers of complication for foreign travelers to visit our country. We have to continue to have the kind of protection about who visits our land to protect our homeland, but at the same time we need to use some common sense about how this is done and incorporate some modern technologies to ensure that the travel experience to the United States is not cumbersome, is not complicated, and that it is transparent and enjoyable for those who come to visit us.

In today's economy, every visitor counts. In the competitive world we live in, every competitive dollar that can be spent out there promoting travel to the United States will inure to the benefit of the job creation we will see in places such as my home State. When you consider that visitors from overseas spend an estimated $4,500 every time they visit the United States, more visitors will mean more jobs for Americans at a time when unemployment continues to rise.

So I truly urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this bill as we work toward increasing our Nation's presence as a tourist destination around the world. I hope, as the week unfolds, we will have an opportunity to engage in conversation and discussion and debate about this very important tourism bill, which will help most States of this country.

The fact is we want Florida to be a significant tourism destination. We are proud of that in our State, but the fact is that States around the country all can benefit and do benefit greatly from foreign tourists visiting our country. It is a great, green way of promoting jobs and opportunities in our country and one I think is long overdue. If we are going to compete effectively with countries abroad, we must, in fact, also be competitive in how we promote and advertise ourselves to the world.

I yield the floor.

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