Just as America's travel season was getting into full swing, the U.S. Senate approved historic immigration reform legislation that recognizes the power of travel to deliver jobs and economic opportunity to communities across the nation.
The bill includes major provisions to improve the security and efficiency of the U.S. visitor entry and air travel experience, such as increased staffing at customs and border checkpoints and requirements to speed visitor processing times. The legislation also includes several measures to make travel to the U.S. more appealing to international travelers, including more visa-free travel and expedited visa processing for those travelers who will still need a visa.
These provisions have the potential to significantly increase travel to and within the U.S., a powerful driver of economic growth and opportunity. The numbers tell the story.
Travel contributes $2 trillion annually to the U.S. economy and generates $129 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue. Without the economic benefits of travel, the average U.S. household would pay $1,060 more in taxes each year. Taxes paid by travelers support local communities without burdening local services, such as schools, libraries and fire departments.
Travel is also one of America's largest employers, supporting more than 14 million jobs. Or, to put it another way: One out of every eight American jobs depends on travel.
Travel is leading the U.S. economic recovery. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, travel and tourism spending grew faster than the overall economy during the first quarter of this year. Travel added more jobs last year than many other industries, including educational services, real estate, construction, utilities, information and mining.
Travel is also America's No. 1 services export. You might ask, how can travel be exported? When international travelers visit the U.S., the goods and services they purchase here are counted as exports. U.S. travel exports totaled nearly $170 billion in 2012 and resulted in a $50 billion positive balance of trade.
Overseas visitors typically stay longer and spend more -- an average of $4,455 per person, per trip -- than domestic travelers or visitors from Canada or Mexico. Overseas visitors make up 44% of total international arrivals yet account for nearly 79% of international visitor spending.
Overseas visitors make an outsized contribution to the U.S. economy, but America's share of the overseas travel market has not kept pace with the growth in international travel. According to U.S. Travel Association estimates, had overseas travel to the U.S. kept pace with the growth of global long-haul travel between 2000 and 2012, America would have gained $722 billion in increased travel spending, $49 billion in increased tax revenue and support for more than 540,000 additional U.S. jobs.
Provisions in the Senate-passed immigration bill will drive increased economic growth and job creation by reversing the long-term trend and welcoming more overseas travelers to America's shores while simultaneously boosting security at U.S. airports and border checkpoints. These are improvements every American can celebrate this summer.
Roger Dow is the president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, the national, nonprofit organization representing all components of the travel industry.