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Remarks from U.S.Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker on the Importance of Travel Opportunities at the White House Travel Bloggers Summit

Today, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker addressed the White House Travel Bloggers Summit, which brought together about 120 travel and tourism bloggers and industry representatives to encourage the next generation to study, work, travel, and volunteer internationally. The Summit focused on how we can increase the opportunities for American students to learn about the world and economy in which they will compete. Secretary Pritzker underscored that international experience is crucial to acquiring the skills, background and cultural fluency to succeed in the competitive 21st century global economy. 

Beyond international education, Secretary Pritzker discussed the critical role of travel and tourism to our economy. The Department of Commerce is the agency charged with leading the Administration’s National Travel and Tourism Strategy, which established the goal of attracting 100 million international visitors and generating $250 billion in visitor spending annually by the end of 2021. Secretary Pritzker highlighted the recently-announced U.S.- China Visa Validity Agreement to encourage more travel between the U.S. and China by extending the validity of tourist and business visas between our two countries from 1 to 10 years and student visas from 1 to 5 years. Currently, travel and tourism supports roughly 7.7 million jobs in local communities nationwide, and last year alone 1.8 million Chinese visitors traveled to the U.S., spending $21 billion and supporting more than 100,000 American jobs. With this change in our visa policy, up to 7.3 million Chinese visitors will travel to the U.S. by 2021, contributing nearly $85 billion per year to our economy and supporting as many as 440,000 jobs, which is four times the economic and job impact of today.
Remarks As Prepared for Delivery:
Thank you to the White House and the Global Engagement team at the National Security Council for bringing us all together today.
Thank you to each of the bloggers, experts, and travel industry leaders for participating in this important event.
This summit focuses on two issues near and dear to my heart:
  • How can we create a better future for our young people by increasing their opportunity to learn about the world and economy in which they will compete; and
  • How the growth of travel and tourism in the United States is critical for our economic success. 
I believe that understanding the many norms and business practices outside of our country – and valuing and learning from diverse peoples and cultures – strengthens our nation and our economy.
As a parent, I have encouraged my own children to travel abroad – not simply for fun, but to develop greater cultural sensitivities and appreciation for the beautiful mosaic that is our world today.
I know that my children and I are blessed to have the ability to travel.  Not every American has this same opportunity.  It is my hope, though, that more Americans – and especially more of our young people – can have that same experience.
Indeed, travel outside our borders can add a new dimension to a person’s social and cultural intelligence – and one’s knowledge of how people abroad interact and do business with one another.
Travel abroad helps a person understand that norms and practices may be different in Accra or Athens or Beijing or Buenos Aires; but we are all tied together by a basic human connection. Our similarities vastly outnumber our differences.
In this day and age, more and more employers want to hire people with a true “world view” – with the adaptability and openness that comes with having experienced other cultures. In fact, a MetLife survey found that 65 percent of Fortune 1000 executives identified global awareness as “very important” or “essential” in order to be ready for a career.
As a nation, we should be doing everything we can to encourage more of our young people to experience far-off lands.
Because the exposure to destinations and people outside the United States can have a profound effect on one’s perspective. 
Through travel, a young person can learn firsthand the rhythm of daily life in another country; the nuances of other cultures; and how business is conducted in different communities across the planet.
Through travel, Americans can interact with their peers and counterparts beyond our borders, meeting people face-to-face to exchange ideas and insights.
Through travel, all of us – from the United States or elsewhere – can come to appreciate one another’s customs, backgrounds, and traditions, ultimately making us more willing and able to find common ground.
This is why international education can be so important – why we should encourage more students to study and work abroad.
This is why we should work together – in business, government, and academia – to afford more young Americans the opportunity to travel, to deepen their cultural fluency, so they can better compete and succeed in the 21st century.
One way the Obama Administration is taking the lead on this front is through the 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative – to expand the number of U.S. students studying in Latin America and the number of Latin American students coming to the United States.
As part of this effort, U.S. colleges are partnering with schools in Central and South America to develop new study abroad programs, each with a specific focus – ranging from biotechnology and sustainable agriculture to climate change and health care.
To help advance our goals, we have partnered with the ExxonMobil Foundation and the Freeport-McMoRan Foundation to support educational exchanges in Latin American countries focused on the STEM fields.
Amandine Gatali is one beneficiary of these programs. Born in Rwanda, she is an American student, working toward a degree in environmental engineering and Spanish. This past spring, Amandine studied and interned for a Chilean engineering company. She had the opportunity to not only apply her engineering background in a different environment – Chile – but to expand her language skills and global fluency. Amandine said that “this program opened up many different doors” and allowed her to “acquire…great skills in communication and connection.”
Ideally, more young Americans would have the chance to get this important cultural, technical, and language exposure as Amandine did in Chile. These connections can be critical to American competitiveness today and in the future.
We all know the importance and economic value of young Americans studying and working abroad. But we also need more international students traveling here to the United States. This, too, is essential to our mutual understanding as well as our economic growth – and can have an enormous impact over the long run.
Take the example of China’s President Xi Jinping. In 1985, as a low-level Chinese government official, he spent a few weeks in Muscatine, Iowa, learning about American agriculture. He stayed with a local family; he met local leaders and farmers; he engaged with the local community. And 27 years later, he made a point of returning to Muscatine to see his old friends and hosts – this time, as China’s Vice Premier.
In the decades since his time in Iowa, President Xi has called this experience transformative, giving him a deeper appreciation for our country, culture, and people.
Today, he understands the vital importance of creating more opportunities for interaction between our nations, our communities, and our peoples.
I know President Obama agrees.
To that end, just a few weeks ago, both Presidents announced a significant agreement to encourage more travel between the United States and China – by extending the validity of tourist and business visas from 1 to 10 years, and student visas from 1 to 5 years.
What this means is: starting now, American and Chinese travelers will not have to apply for a new visa each year, making travel easier and less costly.
This is a big deal. This smart policy change could do more for U.S.-China relations and mutual understanding than almost any other policy initiative. This will enable more people-to-people engagement between America and China – and the better we understand one another, the more opportunity we will have to engage on an economic level. I know it is the hope of Presidents Obama and Xi that this agreement will bring our peoples, students, and businesses closer together.
This announcement will also have an enormous economic impact on our country. Travel and tourism is already our largest services export to China. Last year alone, 1.8 million Chinese visitors traveled to the U.S., spending $21 billion and supporting more than 100,000 American jobs.
But there is so much more potential to tap. Chinese tourists and business leaders rank America as their top destination, but we capture less than 2 percent market share of Chinese travelers. Chinese citizens cite the ease of obtaining a visa second only to cost among the factors dictating where to take their next trip. With the change in our visa policy, we expect up to 7.3 million Chinese visitors to travel to the U.S. in 2021, contributing nearly $85 billion per year to our economy and supporting as many as 440,000 jobs.
This is four times the economic and job impact as today.
The potential boon for U.S. businesses, our communities, and job creation is extraordinary.
The China visa announcement is just one component of our Administration’s broader focus on travel and tourism. The travel and tourism sector is critical to our economic growth. When people travel from afar to spend money here, buy our products, rent cars, stay in hotels, visit our landmarks – that generates significant economic activity.
  • Travel and tourism today supports roughly 7.7 million jobs in local communities nationwide.
  • In the last 5 years, the number of international visitors has grown – and our economy has seen the benefits, as that growth created nearly 260,000 American jobs. 
President Obama understands the vital role of travel and tourism in our economy, which is why this Administration developed and unveiled America’s first-ever National Travel and Tourism Strategy.
I am proud that this effort is led by the Commerce Department – and I encourage all of you to meet the first Executive Director of our National Travel and Tourism Organization, Kelly Craighead. Kelly and her team are focused on clear benchmarks: to attract 100 million international visitors and generate $250 billion in visitor spending annually by the end of 2021.
We are already making progress toward our goals: in 2013, a record 70 million international visitors came to the United States, spending an unprecedented $214 billion in our markets.
There is more to come. With our strategy in place:
  • We will continue to promote the United States through BrandUSA;
  • We will work to reduce wait times for visa applications and make the entry process at U.S. airports less of a hassle; and
  • We will keep fighting to build the infrastructure we need to welcome more visitors to our shores. 
As men and women who cover, promote, and write about travel, the Administration’s focus on this sector should come as no surprise. Promoting travel and tourism and encouraging more young Americans to study abroad are essential to our competitiveness; vital to our prosperity; and critical to the success of our businesses and our economy in the 21st century.
We need your help to get the word out. You have the ear of students and families across our country, and we need you to make clear:
  • Why it can be in a young person’s best interest to spend time beyond our borders; and
  • Why it is in our national economic interest to be fully engaged and knowledgeable about cultures and people across the globe. 
We need you to tout and reinforce the economic importance of travel and tourism – and of connection. And we need you to help us ensure that everyone, at home and around the world, knows that America’s doors are open for visitors, open for students, open for growth – and open for business.
Thank you for being here. Thank you for participating in the effort to promote American growth and competitiveness in the 21st century.