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BrandUSA will continue promoting travel to the U.S. for at least five more years if the U.S. Senate follows their colleagues in the House and passes the bill reauthorizing it.
The House approved the latest government funding bill Thursday night before sending it to the Senate, which granted a two-day extension to consider and hold a vote, as the specter of a possible government shutdown looms less than two weeks before Christmas. The bill would help fund most of the government until September 2015 and BrandUSA until 2020, if the reauthorization surges the final version of the bill.
The pending reauthorization comes less than six months after Congress considered reauthorizing BrandUSA in July under the Travel Promotion, Enhancement, and Modernization Act.
If the government funding bill passes and BrandUSA is still included, the government could authorize up to $100 million a year for BrandUSA through fees paid by international traveler over the next five years. This is the same amount allotted under current law.
International tourists from the 38 visa-waiver countries, not U.S. taxpayers, fund BrandUSA, which solicits matching funds from the private sector.
Instead of paying visa fees, tourists from these countries pay a $14 fee to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization( ETSA). BrandUSA receives $10 from this fee, with the remaining $4 going to the Department of Homeland Security.
BrandUSA must also raise funds through its private sector partners before receiving any ETSA funding. For fiscal 2013, the organization received $130 million from its travel industry partners, and claims its work attracted 1.1 million international tourists this year from eight markets, including Brazil, China, India and Russia.
“When we first started, the original projection was that we would not reach 1.1 million visitors a year,” said Anne Madison, a spokesperson for BrandUSA. “The 1.1 million number is based on our marketing efforts in those eight markets we were fully deployed in. This year, our marketing was present in more than 30 international markets, and we were fully deployed in 14 international markets, so the actual number of visitors is potentially much higher.”
About 25% of its private sector funding comes from tour operators, and 22-27% comes from the media including BBC, Travel Channel, and National Geographic. The remaining private funding originates from destinations, airlines and attractions, Madison said.
“There’s not much of a drive to push international tourists beyond the major gateways,” Madison said. “That is our theme — to push people beyond these gateways and take them on itineraries off the beaten path.”
Regardless of what happens with the bill’s final version, it is notable that Congress decided to include the reauthorization in the $1.1 trillion government funding bill while also proposing cuts to the Internal Revenue Service and only funding the DHS through February, for example.
The amount of private money BrandUSA raised and the number of visitors will claim to have attracted in 2014 will be released in its first quarter next year.