Airlines are bristling over a plan floated by other parts of the
travel industry that would pay for a proposed campaign to promote
travel to the U.S. by adding fees of up to $10 to certain airline
three-part plan, titled "Blueprint to Discover America," was
developed by the Discover America Partnership, a group representing
several travel companies and associations.
representatives presented it to the Senate Commerce Committee on
Wednesday, only hours after it was unveiled at the Travel Industry
Association's annual State of the Industry luncheon. A day earlier,
industry representatives had presented it to the Commerce
A key aspect of
the plan is the creation of a public/private entity that would
promote the U.S. to international travelers.
estimated that the promotion, including international advertising,
would cost at least $300 million. To pay for it, the partnership
floated three possible funding schemes:
A $10 fee added
to the airline ticket of travelers from countries in the Visa
A $5 entry or
exit fee added to the price of an airline ticket.
estimates that the $5 fee would raise at least $250 million a year.
The $10 fee option would raise a similar amount. The tax credit
option would involve issuing up to $1 billion in tax credit bonds
to finance the effort over five years.
the larger objective of encouraging inbound tourism, James May,
president of the Air Transport Association, told the Senate
committee that adding fees to airline tickets would be the wrong
way to go.
"Why would we
want to charge passengers more at the same time we are trying to
get more of them to visit the U.S.?" May asked. "That just does not
make sense. I would like to remind the committee that international
airline passengers are already paying approximately $50 in U.S.
taxes and fees for each trip to America. What passengers should
expect for $50 is an efficient system to get them through our
The architects of
the Blueprint said they were open to other options and were not
married to any one proposal.
testifying at the hearing included Stevan Porter, president of
InterContinental Hotels and chairman of the Discover America
Partnership; Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts
and chairman of the TIA; and Jonathan Tisch, chairman and CEO of
Loews Hotels and chairman of the Travel Business
that the marketing effort was an essential part of the
something that virtually every other industrialized country in the
world is already doing," Rasulo said. "Australia, for instance,
spends $113 million a year communicating and promoting itself to
travelers. Canada spends $58 million. But the U.S. currently has no
The lack of an
international promotional marketing effort on the part of the U.S.
is at least partly to blame for a 17% drop in inbound visits to the
U.S. from overseas since 9/11, Porter said.
"This decline has
resulted in a loss of nearly 200,000 jobs, $90 billion in [visitor]
spending and $15 billion in federal, state and local taxes," Porter
Committee Chairman Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and ranking member
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), noting the importance of tourism to
their states, indicated a willingness to craft legislation based on
the plan. Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) and Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.),
co-chairs of the House Travel and Tourism Caucus, also voiced
support for the Blueprint.
which has been in development for nearly a year, is designed to
address an issue identified by travel industry research:
Increasingly negative views of the U.S. by potential visitors, a
market that represents billions of dollars to the U.S.
things, it calls for speeding the visitor visa application process.
According to the partnership, the wait time for a U.S. visa in
Venezuela is as much as 58 days, and it is at least 184 days in
India. Delays are due in part to staffing shortages at U.S.
consulates, the Partnership said.
research also said that visitors to the U.S. are put off by, or
actually fearful of, U.S. customs and border patrol procedures.
Among other things, visitors worry they will not be permitted into
the U.S. as a result of a slight mistake or a misunderstood
scope, the Blueprint builds on "Secure Borders, Open Doors," a
strategy to bolster border security while encouraging inbound
tourism to the U.S. that was launched last January by Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice and Michael Chertoff, secretary of the
Department of Homeland Security.
Porter said the
Blueprint was designed to "further guide Congress in concert with
the Rice/Chertoff initiative [with] necessary reforms to continue
to improve America's broken travel system."
To contact reporter Michael Milligan, send e-mail to [email protected].