The business meeting and travel industry has long emphasized the benefits that result from face-to-face interactions, a resolve that was on display when more than 250 industry representatives met with legislative leaders for Destination Capitol Hill.
Four key initiatives, including funding a federal position to help increase U.S. global competitiveness for travel and tourism, were among the topics raised by business meeting and travel industry advocates who met with 230 members of Congress and their offices to discuss how travel drives economic growth and creates jobs within their respective communities, as well as legislative priorities to grow all sectors of the U.S. travel industry.
“The value of having constituents visit Capitol Hill,” and pressing their priorities “face to face is irreplaceable,” said Tori Emerson Barnes, Executive Vice President for Public Affairs and Policy at the US Travel Association. “Data shows that more things get done when you’re in person.”
The business and travel industry leaders, representing 38 states, arrived for the annual event designed to educate policymakers about the power of travel. The program combined a legislative day on Capitol Hill with advocacy training, guest speakers and peer-to-peer networking while providing attendees with an opportunity to learn about upcoming legislation that impacts travel, network with peers and meet with members of Congress to stress the importance of travel as an economic driver.
Michael Dominguez, President and CEO of Associated Luxury Hotels International, said Destination Capitol Hill was a “rewarding and encouraging day.”
Travel spending generated $2.6 trillion to total economic impact, supporting nearly 15 million jobs. In unison with the U.S. Travel Association, the industry representatives lobbied on the Hill on four key initiatives including:
Fully Fund the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Travel and Tourism
This position would lead efforts across the federal government to grow domestic and international travel. International travel to the U.S. is one of the nation’s largest industry exports, but there has never been a high-level, Senate-confirmed, government official tasked with developing and coordinating a national strategy. The Commerce Department, for fiscal year 20243, has set aside $3.5 million to fund the office.
Lower Visitor Visa Wait Times
Wait times for a U.S. visitor visa (B1/ B2 visas) average more than one year in the top countries for inbound travel. In 2019, a staggering 43% of international visitors came from countries that require a visa to enter the U.S. These delays are estimated to cost the travel industry 2.6 million visitors and $7 billion in spending in 2023.
Provide H-2B Cap Relief to Address Travel Workforce Shortfalls
Despite returning to pre-pandemic employment levels, the leisure and hospitality industry still has 1.5 million open jobs; 15% of all job openings across the U.S. economy. Many travel businesses rely on H-2B temporary worker visas to meet their workforce needs. The H-2B cap has not been adjusted in more than 30 years. Without access to workers, travel businesses are forced to limit operations and reduce services.
Advance Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Priorities
Provide at least $50 million per year for aviation workforce development programs, which would help increase the supply of qualified pilots and mechanics.
U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman said the feedback was positive with general bipartisan support to fund the Assistant Secretary for Travel and Tourism. He added support is growing to join legislation led by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) that, if enacted, will set a 21-day average goal for the State Department to process visa wait times. Advocates also laid the groundwork for a House companion bill.
“Travel rebounded strongly in 2022 thanks to robust demand for domestic leisure travel,” Freeman said. “Now we must focus on fully restoring the international and business travel segments to continue growing this critical driver of the U.S. economy.
“Travel’s success is the nation’s success—these priorities are not just important to our industry, but to the future of the U.S. economy.”