Skift Take

Nearly every other country has a tourism minister or tourism secretary. In a halfway fix, the U.S. Congress passed funding bills Friday that included money to hire an assistant secretary of commerce for travel and tourism.

The U.S. Senate passed key government funding bills Friday evening — with one that included “up to $3.5 million of funding for the office of the assistant secretary of commerce for travel and tourism.

President Joe Biden signed the legislation Saturday, setting up the Commerce Department to fill the role.

Congress created the assistant secretary position in 2022 with the aspiration of ensuring that travel issues receive a more coordinated government focus. A top goal is to enable the U.S. to draw 90 million international visitors a year by 2027.

“Funding this critical position is a step in ensuring the long-term global competitiveness of the U.S.,” said Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, which had lobbied extensively to create and fund the position.

The new official’s purpose will be to craft a strategy for maxing out the economic potential of the travel sector in communities nationwide as they vie to attract international visitors and host major conventions and sports events. Partly this will be done by encouraging interagency coordination. The office will sit in the International Trade Administration.

At the Skift Global Forum last September, Freeman cautioned that the position wouldn’t be a ‘panacea’ for issues facing the U.S. travel industry.

“You look at so many of our challenges in the Department of Transportation, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of ‘Let’s keep people from traveling’ – across the federal government and people in the Department of Commerce are going to be limited in their ability to solve those problems,” Freeman said.

It’s unclear how long the Biden Administration will take to fill the position. In December, the administration swore in Alex Lasry as the new deputy assistant secretary for travel and tourism at the Commerce Department. Lasry oversees the National Travel and Tourism Office within the International Trade Administration. 


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Tags: Biden Administration, congress, U.S. Department of Commerce, us travel, US Travel Association

Photo credit: Geoff Freeman, head of the US Travel Association (left) speaking with Fred Dixon of NYC Tourism and Dawit Habtemariam of Skift at Skift Global Forum 2023 in New York City. Source: Skift.

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