“Let me be clear — America is open for business, America is open for travel and open to the millions of international visitors who wish us well,” said United States Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross on Monday at The U.S. Travel Association’s IPW conference in Washington, D.C.
Ross painted a warm and supportive picture of the Trump Administration’s views on the travel industry and tourism promotion even as it has tried to impose policies, such as a travel ban, that have been called anti-tourism.
And last week, President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget called for the elimination of Brand USA, the country’s tourism marketing arm, which would gut funding for international tourism promotion at the federal level.
But Ross perhaps gave one of the Trump Administration’s most encouraging speeches on tourism to date in front of one of the largest annual gatherings of the U.S. travel industry and international partners.
Even the word bridge, for example — rather than wall — was included in Ross’ speech. “This administration recognizes the power of travel as an enabling platform for business, a gateway to education and a bridge to bring people together,” he said. “We’re planning for a busy summer travel season and we will welcome millions of international travelers.”
Many of Ross’ comments, though certainly welcomed by the audience of travel professionals, countered the Trump Administration’s America First policy. “The U.S. is eager to form closer bonds of friendship, security, culture and commerce with the rest of the world,” said Ross. “The travel and tourism business, with its people-to-people ties, is an incredibly potent force in achieving those goals.”
Ross also said that the his department looks forward to working with the travel industry. “At the Department of Commerce, we have a great travel and tourism team and many delegations here have already met with and worked with them,” he said. “They’re eager to help you attract more visitors to our shores. I encourage you to take advantage of their talent and their expertise.”
Job Creation And Security
Ross said the Trump Administration prioritizes travel and tourism and only ranks the industry below national security, job growth, and economic development in terms of importance.
He noted that the U.S. is number one in the world for revenue derived from travel and tourism. “International visitation supports 1.2 million jobs in the U.S,” said Ross. “I say all this within the context of this administration’s top priorities.”
President Trump’s proposed budget, Ross said, reduces tax and regulatory burdens that will help create new jobs, including in the travel industry.
“You’re selling your product in an increasingly competitive global environment,” said Ross. “The weakness of many foreign currencies against the dollar is a challenge you’re facing.”
On security, Ross said the U.S. wants to process travelers “as efficiently and as quickly as possible” and maintain a dual message of national security and tourism promotion.
“We are taking every measure to ensure that the U.S. remains competitive in providing a quality visitor experience,” he said. “But also ensuring the safety our citizens and our guests. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is deploying innovative programs and technology including trusted traveler programs, automated passport control kiosks and mobile passport control.”
The Administration recognizes that more screening and security procedures, such as from the laptop ban, increases wait times and creates customer complaints. “But, we must protect people from terrorists,” said Ross. “Without safety and security, there will be little travel.”
If the last five months of the Trump Administration are an indication, Ross’ statements could be undermined in a tweet from the President or a lack of staffing among departments charged with carrying out the duties.
Still, if U.S travel brands were waiting for a sign that they’ll have leaders on their side in Washington, Ross’ speech signaled that travel brands will at least continue to have a seat at the table.
Late Monday, U.S. Travel sent an effusive statement calling the speech “pitch-perfect for the international audience” at the event.
“In honesty, a number of people probably walked into the room with misgivings about this administration’s views on international visitors, but I’m certain they walked out encouraged that the U.S. government grasps the immense value of inbound travelers,” U.S. Travel President and CEO Roger Dow said. “Coupled with economic news that international travel to the U.S. continued its prolonged uptick at the end of the first quarter, I’m as optimistic as ever that travel will continue its role as a significant growth engine for the U.S. economy, jobs and exports.”