WASHINGTON — Representatives from across the travel industry gathered in Washington on Tuesday to kick off a three-day event aimed at getting key industry issues heard by congressional leaders amid the loud partisan rhetoric of an election year.
“This is not a partisan issue,” said Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), who in November introduced the Visit USA Act (H.R. 3341/S. 1746), which allows Chinese visitors to apply for five-year multiple-entry visas as opposed to one-year multiple entry visas, among other initiatives aimed at making it easier for international visitors to come to the U.S.
Hirono's sentiment, which she expressed during a luncheon meeting here, was the rally cry from travel industry leaders participating in the Grassroots Congressional Summit, an event sponsored by the National Tour Association, Destination Marketing Association International and the Southeast Tourism Society.
These organizations were hoping to get congressional leaders to commit to issues like easing visa restrictions and maintaining funding for the Brand USA campaign and the national parks.
“We think this is the tourism renaissance,” said Steve Richer, public affairs advocate for NTA. “Tourism has worked its way up in the dialogue in Washington, D.C.”
There does appear to be unprecedented momentum behind inbound travel and tourism efforts at the federal level, with the passage of the Travel Promotion Act, President Obama’s executive order in January to increase inbound U.S. tourism by expediting U.S. visa processing and the launch of Brand USA as the first national tourism campaign.
But the industry faces the challenge of maintaining momentum during a presidential election year, when issues that at their surface seem non-partisan somehow become politicized.
“It probably will be a challenge just because there is a lot of focus on the upcoming elections,” said NTA President Lisa Simon.
But she and the other participants remained optimistic as they were preparing for their one-on-one meetings with congressional leaders on Wednesday and Thursday.
She said that focusing on the economic benefits of enhanced travel and tourism policy on job and revenue growth actually plays into that rhetoric as the parties look to industries that can help reignite the economy.
“People want to create jobs,” added Hirono about why the travel and tourism industry is starting to be heard in Washington.
NTA also attributed much of the progress that’s being made to greater cooperation between travel groups, such as between NTA and the U.S. Travel Association.
U.S. Travel CEO Roger Dow made a brief appearance at the NTA event to encourage participants in their efforts to educate and persuade congressional leaders. Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter@mbtravelweekly.