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Remarks at Travel and Tourism Advisory Committee

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
Remarks at Travel and Tourism Advisory Committee

Good morning everyone and welcome. I want to thank Dawn Drew for chairing our meeting today, and thank all of you for being here and for your service.

I also want to welcome:

  • Douglas Smith, Assistant Secretary for the Private Sector, at the Department of Homeland Security;
  • David Donahue, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services, at the State Department; and,
  • David Grizzle, chief counsel, Federal Aviation Administration, from the Department of Transportation.
  • And soon Mike Strautmanis, Chief of staff to the Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Relations and Public Engagement will be joining us.

But before we get started I would like to swear in our three new members.  Would  Helane Becker, Senior Vice President, Dahlman Rose & Company,  Todd Davidson, CEO, Oregon Tourism Commission, and “C.K.” Chandrakant “Chun – druh – kant” President, BVM Holdings, Inc. please stand, raise your right hand and repeat after me?

I, (state your name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

We meet here this morning with the American economy stronger than at any time since the Great Recession began in December 2007.

Retail sales just had their strongest quarterly gain since 2001.  And private sector employment grew every single month in 2010 – over a million new jobs total – with the manufacturing sector posting its first increase in annual employment since 1997.  

So we are clearly moving in the right direction.

But that’s not to suggest that anyone within the administration or the Commerce Department is satisfied – not with unemployment still over nine percent. 

The worst of the economic crisis may be behind us.  Now, we’ve got to rebuild our economy, and we've got to do it in an environment more competitive than ever before.

As President Obama said last week

The most important contest we face today is not between Democrats and Republicans.  It’s America’s contest with competitors across the globe for the jobs and industries of our time.  It’s about winning the future.

And your industry has a big role to play in this competition. Travel and tourism continues to be one of the bright spots in the U.S. economy.  The first 11 months of 2010 showed a $28.3 billion trade surplus for travel and tourism.

Total tourism-related employment rose two percent in the third quarter of 2010, and we are continuing to see increases in the number of travelers and in the amount that they are spending while they’re here. 

Today, I’m happy to announce the new international visitation data, prepared by our Office of Travel and Tourism.  During the first 11 months of 2010, 11.4 million more visitors than year before.

While international visitation increased 10 percent for the first 11 months of 2010, international visitor spending increased by 11 percent to a solid $122.7 billion.

The continued strength of travel and tourism is one of the reasons why exports were up 17 percent through November over the same period last year.

Here at Commerce, we’re working hand-in-hand with all of you to bring more visitors to the United States.

Since our last meeting, we’ve made significant progress in implementing the Travel Promotion Act.

The Board of the Corporation for Travel Promotion that I appointed last September has incorporated and held several meetings.

And we’ve coordinated with the Board, the Treasury Department, and the Department of Homeland Security to work out systems for funding the Corporation. 

I’m happy to report they are now well on their way to hiring staff and becoming operational.

I know there are a few members of the Board here today, and I’d like to welcome them.

This past Fall, we also held a meeting of the Tourism Policy Council at the White House to discuss industry issues. 

As you might guess, visa policies and processes were issues high on the agenda. 

Relevant agencies are working together to improve access to the visa process for travelers from key markets

So at this point, along with the rest of the Advisory Board, I would very much like to hear the recommendations of the Travel Facilitation Subcommittee…

Thank you for your work.

I know all of us here are aware of how big of a role improved Visa Access can play in spurring travel tourism.  But it’s worth looking at the numbers:

Based on the most recent annual travel receipts, we know that increasing the number of visas issued to legitimate travelers from Brazil by 3 percent would provide the United States with $99.5 million more in economic benefit.

Increase travelers from India by three percent – that’s $77.3 million. 

Increase travelers from China by three percent – that’s $82.7million. 

So I’m very pleased to share our good news about opening the doors to Chinese group travel even further.

During the December Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade meetings, we reach agreement with China to extend the MOU for outbound group leisure travel from China to the U.S. to three additional provinces.

This agreement went into effect last Sunday and will give the U.S. travel and tourism industry access to 67 million more Chinese citizens. 

This extends the overall reach of the MOU to 77 percent of the country.

We’re looking forward to working with you to develop many more such market opening successes with other countries around the world. 

The Commerce Department also recognizes that efforts to make the United States a more welcoming place go a long way towards attracting additional visitors.

Under Secretary Sánchez will chair the upcoming meeting of the Travel Facilitation Working Group of the Tourism Policy Council next week. 

And we will review your recommendations and agree on a course of action toward our common goals. 

Thank you again for your time and effort and especially for your clear recommendations. 

This will provide the Facilitation Working Group with valuable fodder for their deliberations. 

We will come back to you within the next few months with how and what we can implement from your recommendations. 

As I need to leave now for a Cabinet Meeting, I am pleased to hand the meeting over to Under Secretary Sánchez.  Francisco. . . . .