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Hawaii tourism could benefit with the advancement of three bipartisan bills that are geared to expanding public and private travel-promotion efforts and helping the U.S. attract millions more international visitors annually.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who has presided over the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation since March, introduced the bills Thursday after a committee hearing titled “The State of U.S. Travel and Tourism: Industry Efforts to Attract 100 Million Visitors Annually.”
The legislative package follows a recent announcement by Schatz that Honolulu will receive a one-time appropriation of $2.8 million and a $2.4 million appropriation in subsequent years to fund 20 additional U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers to expedite the process of entering Hawaii. Schatz said the new Honolulu Airport officers are part of the 2,000 additional CBP officers at air, land and sea ports funded in the fiscal year 2014 omnibus appropriations bill.
“This is great news for our local economy. More CBP officers in our state means faster processing and a better travel experience, which will help attract international visitors to the state and boost our visitor industry,” said Schatz, who has pledged further support to Hawaii tourism with his latest policy package, which includes:
–The INVITE Act, co-sponsored by Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and endorsed by the U.S. Travel Association, Airports Council International-North America and American Society of Travel Agents, is a legislative effort aiming to improve entry by expanding the Global Entry program to enable U.S. Customs and Border Protection to process international travelers faster.
–The NATIVE Act would make tribes and tribal organizations eligible for inclusion in national tourism promotion efforts, like Brand USA. It also would provide Native Hawaiian, Alaska Native and American Indian communities with access to resources and technical assistance needed to build sustainable recreational travel and tourism infrastructure and capacity, spur economic development and create jobs.
–The Explore America Act, which is supported by the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, would potentially provide Preserve America Communities like Maui County, Kauai County and Honolulu’s Chinatown additional funding for heritage tourism and preservation.
The tourism policy changes, which Hawaii Tourism Authority CEO Mike McCartney and HTA Chairman Ron Williams favored in their testimony to Schatz’s committee, aim to grow the 69.8 million visitors who came to the U.S. in 2013 to 100 million annually by 2021.
“The tourism industry is one of the biggest employers in the state and supports more than 173,000 jobs for residents. This means for every 1,000 visitors, 20 local jobs are supported,” McCartney said.
In order to balance the softening of U.S. and Japan tourism markets, McCartney said the HTA is focused on growing developing markets, especially in “Other Asia,” which includes South Korea, China and Taiwan.
“While these markets make up a relatively smaller market share in comparison to Japan, they continue to show significant growth and potential,” he said. “The Visa Waiver Program has stimulated interest in travel abroad and resulted in exponential growth in visitor arrivals and expenditures for Hawaii from developing markets like Korea and Taiwan.”
But Schatz, who is running for his first full term in the U.S. Senate and is slated to face U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) in a Democratic Senate primary Aug. 9, said change is needed because the U.S. is losing international travelers to countries that have made it easier to visit.
“If we are going to hit 100 million inbound visitors by 2021, we will have to modernize our system, with an emphasis on China,” he said.
While Hawaii will benefit from these tourism reforms, Schatz expects bipartisan support because legislators “want folks to visit their home states.”
Under the proposed changes, Schatz said Hawaii would receive a greater share of marketing from Brand USA, which in 2013 had roughly $200 million in public and private funds.
“Brand USA is a program that has been very successful in terms of marketing the U.S. as a destination. My objective is to make sure that it’s reauthorized and that there’s an emphasis on Hawaii … which continues to be the gold standard for hospitality and one of the most attractive places for international visitors to visit.”