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US Travel Association Week in Washington

Posted By Administration, Friday, September 29, 2017
SEPTEMBER 18-29, 2017
Week in Washington


As Texas, Florida and other affected states assess damage from the recent hurricanes, two things became clearer: the devastating impact on many tourism venues – and the resilience of travel leaders in the face of the storms. The national travel community is banding together to do all we can to help those in need – and assist however possible as our destination and venue colleagues try to get back to business.


Since Hurricane Maria, U.S. Travel has focused on how best the national travel community can do our part to help alleviate the heartbreaking suffering in Puerto Rico. In addition to engaging U.S. government officials to press for urgent support, we are coordinating with U.S. Travel members – hoteliers, cruise lines and others – who are already on the scene and answering the call. If you have information or services to offer, please contact us.


And as we survey the aftermath of Harvey and Irma, history teaches that the return to normalcy can be greatly aided by economic as well as physical recovery – and it’s gratifying to see the pace of restoration work in the Florida Keys. Restoring travel and tourism to the region as soon as feasibly possible, by advertising that the impacted states are open for business, will help those hurt the most. Many who have lost their homes in these disasters are at risk of losing their jobs, too—if travelers remain under the impression that the areas recovering from the storm paths are unsafe or unsuitable for visitors. This affects millions of workers; over 20 percent of American jobs directly supported by travel are in Florida, Louisiana and Texas alone. While not all the hard-hit areas are yet ready, many can are able to welcome visitors right now. CEO Roger Dow last week encouraged community leaders and travel professionals in affected areas to find a megaphone and invite travelers to return. As a St. Petersburg/Clearwater resident himself, Roger will certainly be doing so in Florida.


This week, the White House announced its decision on enhanced national security measures relating to entry into the United States. Using new baseline security criteria, eight nations were found to be non-compliant: Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen. Iraqi nationals traveling to the United States may also be subject to additional scrutiny. Travel to the U.S. is still possible for some on the list, notably from Venezuela — among our top 20 inbound travel markets — where travel restrictions only apply to certain government officials and their families. The restrictions being imposed on these eight countries are conditional and may be lifted as they work with the U.S. government. Notably, the review process identified the U.S. Visa Waiver Program as a proven and effective "best practice" security partnership. It is heartening to see this endorsement for the VWP after years of educating leaders in Washington on the program's benefits as a national security tool that facilitates international travel. The next day, the U.S. Supreme Court cancelled scheduled arguments on previous related rulings, asking lawyers to address whether or how the proclamation now moots the case. U.S. Travel commends the Administration for taking a tailored approach and evaluating each country on its own merits. Though outright travel bans are a concern, security adjustments rooted in legitimate intelligence are today a fact of life for travelers. The world needs to know that they are not intended to discourage travel generally, and that legitimate business and leisure travelers are as welcome as ever in the United States.


U.S. Travel last week launched Voices for Open Skies, an interactive website highlighting the perspectives of business owners and travelers who benefit from America’s international aviation agreements with more than 120 countries. The site calls on policymakers to reject efforts by the Big Three U.S. airlines to dismantle Open Skies pacts with Qatar and the United Arab Emerates, which would serve to dangerously undermine broader Open Skies policy and hurt American jobs. It contains testimonials from across the nation, details the jobs impact and provides advocacy resources for flyers, business owners and travel industry workers.


On Thursday, two days before its current authority expired, the House and Senate approved a six-month extension for operations of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Earlier in the week, Democrats opposed to unrelated bill provisions blocked it from moving through a fast-track process that required a two-thirds majority. Many now expect House action next month on a full reauthorization bill that could include transferring air traffic control operations from the FAA.


On Tuesday, the Senate passed legislation to make permanent the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Business Travel Card program, which expedites border processing at airports across the U.S. and 18 Pacific Rim nations. The bill (S. 504) was sponsored by Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Steve Daines (R-MT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Cory Gardner (R-CO). Without its passage, U.S. Customs and Border Protection cannot issue cards to U.S. citizens after September 2018 – undermining our business competitiveness in the region’s marketplace. The bill is now awaiting action in the House of Representatives.


In response to reports that the Administration is considering eliminating the J-1 cultural exchange visa program, U.S. Travel joined other members in a broad new coalition in letters urging Sec. of State Tillerson and Commerce Sec. Ross to carefully assess the economic impact of any such proposal. As a preemptive legislative strategy takes shape, the Senate Appropriations Committee immediately approved language supporting J-1 visas and two dozen House members cosponsored a bipartisan resolution sponsored by Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) and Rep. Bill Keating (D-MA). In addition to cultural, educational and public diplomacy benefits, the J-1 work visas are absolutely critical to local tourism economies – and U.S. Travel will continue to forcefully defend them.


In testimony Tuesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Deputy Sec. of State John Sullivan testified that consular functions will not be transferred to the Homeland Security Dept. as part of an anticipated restructuring of the State Dept. His comments came in response to questions from Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), who expressed satisfaction with the clarification. The testimony focused on the status of the proposed State Dept. reorganization plan.


In testimony before a Senate hearing yesterday, Acting Homeland Security Sec. Elaine Duke stressed that the security distinctions between “home” and “away” are now blurred, requiring DHS to take decisive action to fix security weaknesses for the long haul. After discussing border security, Sec. Duke directly addressed travel facilitation, saying that DHS is upgrading “almost every stage of the vetting process for U.S.- bound travelers.” This includes detecting terrorists, checking social media, requiring additional data and leveraging new databases. The details are classified but she said, “We have already seen real successes… these enhancements have allowed us to detect and disrupt terror suspects we likely would not have identified otherwise.”


In a cable to embassies worldwide, Sec. of State Tillerson has directed consular officials to review whether visitors to the U.S. follow through on their stated plans for the first three months of their stay here. If not, it will be presumed they lied, making it harder to renew a visa, apply for a new one or adjust legal status. Changes of plan occurring after three months may also be problematic. While U.S. Travel fully supports security imperatives, we remain concerned such policies may discourage visitors and exacerbate visa processing delays. Last year, the U.S. issued 10 million visas. The new policy does not directly affect visitors arriving through the Visa Waiver Program.


Last week, I joined U.S. Travel’s CEO Roger Dow atthe 11th annual U.S.-China Tourism Summit, hosted by Brand USA in Atlanta. The summit attracted over 200 tourism industry officials from both countries for four days of business workshops and networking opportunities. China is the largest outbound market in the world and the largest source of international tourism spending in the U.S. last year. The summit alternates annually between U.S. and Chinese host cities.


The ACLU and other civil liberties groups have sued the Homeland Security Dept. to end the rising incidence of warrantless border searches of travelers’ laptops and smart phones. The lawsuit complaint in a federal district court in Massachusetts challenges the policy of permitting invasive searches of electronic devices “that do not require a warrant, probable cause or even reasonable suspicion.”


President Trump this week appeared to back off his longstanding proposal for a public-private partnership to finance a trillion-dollar infrastructure package. Instead, he reportedly told House Democrats at the White House that he will seek direct funding at the local, state as well as federal level, presumably requiring additional debt or tax revenue – and likely reducing the scale of the work. Previously the President sought to attract private capital through investment incentives.


Richard Anderson, the former CEO of Delta Air Lines recently named to be the new chief of Amtrak, has dropped a bombshell in the context of the Open Skies debate. Delta has led the prolonged and expensive lobbying campaign against Open Skies agreements with Qatar and United Arab Emirates on the grounds that carriers flagged in those two countries are unfairly subsidized by their governments. The campaign began under Anderson’s leadership. No longer an airline executive, Anderson now favors “state supported” transportation companies, noting the need for U.S. subsidies for rail travel, much as Congress appropriates large sums for U.S. highways. As U.S. Travel Executive Vice President of Public Affairs Jonathan Grella commented, “… the outrage Anderson previously expressed over subsidies was a put-on aimed at tilting the playing field further in favor of domestic carriers—not righting a legitimate wrong, not grounded in any sincerity or substance… the Big Three’s sob story on Open Skies is a fabrication, and should be received as such by the Trump administration.”


International visitors spent $13.1 billion in the United States during the month of July, an increase of 1.8 percent compared to July 2016. Spending by international visitors in the U.S. has increased three out of the first seven months of this year. From January to July 2017, international visitors spent $90.7 billion in the United States, an increase of 0.9 percent compared to 2016.


To kick off its second hundred years of operations, the National Park Service is waiving all admission fees tomorrow (9/30). The 417 national parks span every U.S. state and territory. About 100 normally charge an entrance fee, but even they are modest – and the Park Service offers various discount passes. The next free admission days are November 11-12, over Veterans Day weekend.


Among recent press clips were stories on the recent decline in the volume of international visitors to the U.S.;JetBlue CEO blasting legacy airlines for wielding anti-consumer power, while Delta’s ex-CEO now embraces subsidies for Amtrak; our blog posts after the latest London terrorist attacks and celebrating World Tourism Day this week; U.S. Travel’s presence at World Routes 2017 in Barcelona; anticipated delays in U.S. passport processing;U.S. tourism promotion this week in Canada; the new editions of U.S. Travel’s Vantage Point and Travel Outlook.


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