How Much Could The Travel Promotion Act Impact Your Company?

With all the discussion over ancillary fees there seems to be one that is missing the attention of corporate travel professionals responsible for a global program. In the recent edition of The Wire…from AirPlus, it is clear that travel industry insiders lack awareness of the U.S. Travel Promotion Act--even in countries that stand to be most affected by possible new fees.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 9 passed the Travel Promotion Act. Travelers to the US from abroad spend an average of $4,500 per person when visiting the U.S., but have experienced a steep decline since 9/11. Government officials are keen to get their dollars back into the U.S. to boost the ailing economy.

The Travel Promotion Act would create a national nonprofit tourism promotion corporation for the United States "to communicate United States entry policies and otherwise promote leisure, business, and scholarly travel" to international travelers. It would set up an Office of Travel Promotion within the U.S. Department of Commerce and is now waiting for Senate passage before landing on the desk of the president.

But it’s not free. In addition to initial funding of no more than $10 million from the U.S. Treasury (to be repaid by 2012) and voluntary funds from the private sector (in the form of both cash and services from the travel and tourism companies that will benefit from the federal organization), the U.S. government will levy a $10 entry fee on foreign visitors from visa waiver countries to be collected once every two years (in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security's Electronic System for Travel Authorization).

In our November survey, only 10 percent of respondents said they were aware of the details surrounding the Travel Promotion Act, while 29 percent had heard about the legislation, but did not know much about it. More than 60 percent of 96 respondents from around the globe, were not aware of the bill, its intent and/or its fee.

The $10 fee isn’t popular internationally and has actually irked many of the visa waiver program participants, especially European members, who have enjoyed free entry to the U.S. and have reciprocated an open entry policy to U.S. visitors. In fact, Ambassador John Bruton, head of the European Commission delegation to the U.S., described the fee as "discriminatory" and warned that European countries would respond by implementing their own travel fees. Seventy-three percent of respondents in our November survey came predicted so, while only 4 percent thought that the $10 fee would have no effect on U.S. travelers to international destinations.

Supporters of the Travel Promotion Act point to successful national tourism organizations in Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada, which recently completed tourism campaigns that returned $64, $47 and $11, respectively, for each dollar spent. But I’m not convinced yet.