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Brand USA, the private but quasi-governmental U.S. travel marketing arm, won a new lease on life as the U.S. Senate followed the House and passed a $1.1 trillion federal government spending bill yesterday that reauthorizes Brand USA through 2020.
President Obama is expected to sign the government spending legislation, which funds the government through the end of the next fiscal year, avoiding a government shutdown and officially reauthorizing Brand USA in the process.
The U.S. Travel Association, which proselytized for and applauded the reauthorization, notes that in 2013 Brand USA’s international marketing efforts to increase U.S. visitations from abroad claimed responsibility for an additional 1.1 million visitors who generated $3.4 billion in spending.
The U.S. Travel Association emailed a press release late Saturday night following the Senate passage of the spending bill, hailing the reauthorization.
“It’s not every day that Congress makes a policy move that makes abundant sense and has demonstrable value for every region and demographic of this country. Renewing Brand USA is one such thing,” said U.S. Travel Association CEO Roger Dow. “The overwhelming majority that passed reauthorization in the House, coupled with the unanimous vote that passed it out of the Senate Commerce Committee, are a ringing bipartisan endorsement of Brand USA’s mission and effectiveness.”
Dow characterized the reauthorization as U.S. Travel’s top legislative priority.
“The effort to reauthorize Brand USA took many parliamentary turns, and we progressed because of a superb and strategic team effort, quarterbacked by U.S. Travel’s Vice President of Government Affairs Patricia Rojas-Ungar—integrating lobbying, communications, research, grassroots and sustained work by a broad coalition of industry partners,” Dow said.
Authorized by Congress in 2009, the U.S. Commerce Department appointed Brand USA’s first board of directors in 2010. In its short existence, Congressional budget hawks have criticized Brand USA’s spending practices and promotional activities, but this criticism was ultimately by and large rejected as the Senate Commerce Committee, for example, unanimously recommended the passage of the reauthorization measure.
International tourists from the 38 visa-waiver countries, not U.S. taxpayers, fund Brand USA, which solicits cash and in-kind contributions from the private sector. The federal government uses these travelers’ fees to match the private sector contributions.
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.
Brand USA qualifies for up to $100 million per year in these federal matching funds through the reauthorization.
Until the creation of Brand USA through the adoption of the Travel Promotion Act in 2009, the U.S. was one of the few countries abroad that didn’t have a national body promoting inbound tourism, and the travel industry lobbied to fix that omission.