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American travel officials can breathe a big sigh of relief before the holiday break. Congress voted to renew funding for the nation’s destination marketer Brand USA as part of the $1.4 trillion spending package passed by the House on Dec. 17, and the Senate on Thursday. President Trump is expected to sign the legislation.
The U.S. Travel Association, a trade group which lobbies on behalf of Brand USA, has been trying all year to get the reauthorization attached to a piece of must-pass legislation or as a stand-alone bill. The program’s funding was diverted — somewhat unwittingly — in 2018. Had the fight for reauthorization gone into January, travel officials said the ability of the public-private partnership to operate as normal would have been affected, even before its funding officially ran out in September 2020.
As is often the case in modern Washington, an impending shut-down proved to be an effective way to get things done. Lawmakers wanted to avoid a repeat of the record-breaking 35 day partial government shut-down that occurred this time last year; Brand USA was just one of a long list of spending measures included, with either side of the aisle gaining some partisan wins.
Roger Dow, President and CEO of U.S. Travel, predictably welcomed the news, and noted the significance of Brand USA enjoying bipartisan support
“By approving Brand USA, Congress sends a clear message to the American people: smart, bipartisan policymaking that generates economic value and jobs is alive and well in Washington,” Dow said. “Brand USA’s work to boost international visitation is absolutely essential to the U.S. trade balance, and the fact that it operates without sending American taxpayers a bill make it a model public-private partnership that delivers proven results. Congress should be widely applauded for this move by anyone who cares about the U.S. economy and trade.”
The reauthorization will come with a slightly different funding structure, which means the cost of the online application for America’s visa waiver program (known as ESTA) will increase from $14 to $21. A rep for U.S. travel told Skift that, as before, $4 of that will go to Customs and Border Protection. Then, the allocation to Brand USA will decrease from $10 to $7, maxing out at $100 million per year. The remaining $10 will be allocated to the federal government’s general fund, in order to keep funding levels consistent with the budget caps deal in 2018 (where Brand USA’s funding was originally diverted to). In addition to the $100 million from the government, the private sector will continue to contribute to Brand USA’s funding, as well.
The news is a rare bright spot for inbound international tourism to the U.S., which has had a tough year including declining market share, cooling international arrivals particularly from China, as well as harsh policies and rhetoric directed at foreigners from the Trump administration.
U.S. Travel has argued that the program — reauthorized until 2027 — is needed now more than ever.