May is World Trade Month. As we highlight the vast potential for jobs and growth through global commerce, we must not overlook one of America’s most valuable exports: foreign visitors to the United States.
Let me explain. When foreign visitors spend their money here, it’s counted as an export. What’s more, America’s trade relationships and economic prosperity depend on the ability of international businesspeople to travel to the United States to visit our manufacturing operations, inspect the products and services they are purchasing, and negotiate contracts.
The travel and tourism industry currently employs 7.4 million Americans and generates more than $700 billion in revenue. But those numbers could be a lot higher.
We’re losing travel-related jobs and squandering revenue because we’re not laying out the welcome mat for business travelers and tourists. Over the past 10 years, visitors have too often been met with travel hassles that have ultimately driven down the U.S. share of the international travel market.
Consider what’s at stake: If we could restore the U.S. share of the global overseas travel market to its 2000 level, we would create 1.3 million new jobs and generate $860 billion in economic activity — without costing taxpayers a dime.
So how do we promote the United States as a premier destination and draw business and leisure travelers to our shores? We need to pave the way for more of the world’s visitors to come to America hassle free without jeopardizing national security. And we need to eliminate bureaucratic barriers to inbound travel, such as visa processing delays and endless wait times at customs.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is pushing for the Jobs Originating from Launching Travel (JOLT) Act, a new bill that could dramatically increase international travel to the United States. The legislation would expand the Visa Waiver Program, offer lower application fees during off-peak seasons, allow travelers to expedite visa applications for a fee, and encourage timely and predictable application reviews.
In testimony before Congress in March, I pledged the strong support of the business community for the JOLT Act and highlighted the economic imperative of adopting these reforms. Our lawmakers need to move forward with this commonsense legislation.
Let’s make sure that when tourists are ready to travel and businesspeople are ready to make deals, they come to the greatest travel destination of them all — the United States of America. Let’s take the buying power of the vast majority of the world’s customers and put it to work in our own economy.
— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.