11/14/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Promoting America

Just a few hours before millions of Americans tuned in to watch President Obama make the case for health care reform on Wednesday night, a lesser known piece of legislation scored a major victory in the U.S. Senate by an overwhelming vote of 79-19. The Senate passed the Travel Promotion Act, legislation that creates the first-ever U.S. promotion program aimed at attracting international travelers. While discussing international travel may not grab the headlines or cry out for town hall meetings, at a time when our economy continues to suffer, the Travel Promotion Act has the potential to pump billions of dollars in new spending in our country and create tens of thousands of jobs.

While it might not be intuitive to think that the United States needs a marketing campaign, it is something that every country we compete with for inbound travelers does (and something that even the best known brands in the world -- like Coke and Nike -- do on a regular basis). In fact, tourism is so recognized as vital to economies, that many governments have a cabinet-level position for the person in charge. I don't expect to see a Secretary of Travel and Tourism marching in with the rest of the President's cabinet at his next Congressional address, but passing the Travel Promotion Act would be a tremendous positive step to unleash the power of one of our country's greatest industries.

The Travel Promotion Act would create a public-private partnership to promote the United States as a premier travel destination and better explain U.S. security policies. Once passed by the House of Representatives and enacted into law, the program is estimated to drive $4 billion in new consumer spending according to Oxford Economics, and reduce the federal budget deficit by $425 million according to the Congressional Budget Office. And it will not cost taxpayers a cent!

This legislation would be a meaningful step in reversing the decline in international visitors (the U.S. is now the third most visited destination behind France and Spain -- and China is coming on strong to overtake us.) In 2008, 633,000 fewer overseas travelers visited the United States than in 2000, despite the fact that 48 million more international travelers took "long-haul" trips in 2008 than in 2000. If U.S. overseas arrivals had kept pace with international travel trends, America would have welcomed 58 million more visitors, resulting in $182 billion in new spending and $27 billion in new tax revenue. These visitors also would have supported an additional 245,000 American jobs each year.

Here in New York City, you can't visit Times Square or Rockefeller Center without witnessing the impact of international visitors. But what you may not appreciate is their disproportionate effect on our economy. In 2008, international travelers represented only 20% of all NYC visitors but accounted for 47% of all visitor-spending. Simply put, they stay longer and spend more. And spend they do -- last year, they spent more than $15 billion dollars here.

And it doesn't end there. There's an important ancillary benefit to passing this legislation as well. Studies show that people who visit the U.S. from other nations leave with a more favorable view of America and her people which positively affects our image around the world.

When travel declines, we lose an opportunity to create jobs and economic growth in our city and in communities across America. Today, that is something we just can't afford. So we must double our efforts to pass the Travel Promotion Act in the House of Representatives, thereby creating jobs, spurring economic activity and improving our country's image. You can help by contacting your member of Congress and encourage his or her support for the Travel Promotion Act (H.R. 2935). Please take advantage of the current momentum by reaching out and communicating the importance of this legislation, especially during these challenging economic times.