Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, today I rise to recognize the importance of the tourism industry to our country and the State of South Carolina, and to express my support for the passage of initiatives like the Travel Promotion Act of 2009 and a spouse travel tax deduction that seek to bolster an industry that is a vital component to the economies of so many communities and States.
South Carolina is home to some of the most unique destinations for leisure or business travel in the world. From the trails of Table Rock Mountain in the Blue Ridge, to the quaint mill villages throughout the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor, to a kayak excursion in the Congaree Swamp National Park, to a horse carriage ride through the streets of historic Charleston, the Palmetto State is a wealth of natural, cultural, recreational and historic opportunities for any visitor. Golf Digest magazine selected 11 of South Carolina's more than 500 golf courses as some of the top 100 public courses in the Nation for 2009. Conde Nast Traveler magazine named Charleston as the No. 2 destination in the country, rounding out 16 consecutive years as one of the magazine's top 10 travel destinations in America. The list goes on. The one-of-a-kind history, landscape and culture of our State help all visitors to understand our pride in the motto ``Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places.''
The sum of these treasures is an economic engine that drives the prosperity of our State. The tourism industry is the second largest industry in the State of South Carolina. In 2007, the industry generated $17.2 billion and employed more than 12 percent of the State's workforce. Not only does tourism generate more than $100 billion in tax revenue and employ more than 7 million individuals nationwide, but the industry also encourages investment, attracts new business, and enhances the quality of life for local residents. Tourism is truly the lifeblood for many communities not only in South Carolina but throughout America.
Unfortunately, the economic downturn is taking its toll on the tourism industry. I remain concerned with the impact that the recession continues to have on the decisions of domestic and international leisure travelers, and on business meetings travel. Families and individuals are tightening their belts, afraid to spend hard-earned money in an unpredictable economy that could still worsen. International travel to the United States has declined since September 11, 2001, despite the weak dollar enabling most overseas travelers to do and see even more in our country.
Domestic business travel accounts for about one-fifth of all trips to South Carolina each year. More and more companies are hesitant to book perfectly legitimate corporate meetings and conferences in destinations like Greenville and the South Carolina coast for fear that they will be singled out for irresponsible spending during an economic recession. According to a Meetings and Conventions magazine study, more than half of those interviewed believed that recent harsh criticism against meetings and events has influenced their companies' decisions to hold such events. We must not allow the irresponsible behavior of some to damage public opinion regarding business travel for responsible organizations.
In the first 3 months of 2009, hotel occupancy in South Carolina was down more than 12 percent, with losses in all of our traditional tourist and business meeting destinations. Tourism-related tax revenue is down 5 percent from this time last year. These are only a couple of real numbers that directly impact employment and local economies in South Carolina, a State currently suffering from one of the highest unemployment rates in the Nation at 12.1 percent.
While I believe the economy will rebound eventually, consumer confidence is not showing sufficient signs of improvement. We must encourage international travelers, Americans, and American business to continue to travel for leisure and to hold appropriate destination corporate meetings and conferences, despite the downturn in the economy. I remain committed to exploring new ways to accomplish this goal in the U.S. Senate.
I recently signed on as a cosponsor to S. 1023, the Travel Promotion Act, as I believe it is a significant step in restoring and encouraging overseas travel to the United States. While I supported a measure for the Senate to proceed to this legislation last week, I was unable to support cloture on S. 1023 as I do not believe the majority provided the minority with sufficient opportunity to offer amendments. My vote was unrelated to the substance of the legislation, and I am disappointed that the Senate was unable to complete action on the bill this week.
The Travel Promotion Act facilitates collaboration between various stakeholders in the tourism industry so that they may share ideas on how best to promote travel to America. South Carolina welcomes about 1 million international travelers each year. While this number may be low compared to other tourism destinations, overall South Carolina benefits greatly from their visits as international travelers tend to stay longer and spend more in our hotels, restaurants, shops, cultural sites and more. Through this legislation, I am hopeful that efforts to encourage travel to our country will benefit South Carolina.
To encourage business travel nationally, I authored legislation, S. 261, which would allow for a spouse to deduct travel expenses such as transportation, food and lodging expenses, when traveling with his or her spouse on business travel. Business travel accounts for more than 20 percent of all travel in South Carolina. I strongly believe that restoring this tax deduction would encourage additional travel and subsequent exploration of work-travel destinations. It is my hope that Congress will act on this legislation in a timely manner.
Now is an opportune time to travel, as nearly all tourism destinations are offering packages and deals to entice families and corporate meetings to choose their respective areas. Hotel rates are some of the lowest we have seen in years, while gas prices remain affordable. I am hopeful that families and corporations will take advantage of this opportunity, and consider South Carolina for their next destination.
It is vital that Congress recognize the importance of the tourism industry to our country, and encourage all Americans to continue to travel. I look forward to working with my colleagues on new ways to support the tourism industry.