The U.S. remains the reigning world champ of international tourism, according to a recent report. Last year, we drew a record-breaking 80 million visitors, generating $2.5 trillion in economic activity. We hold the mantle as the world’s largest tourism economy, thanks in part to the public-private partnership Brand USA, a tourism marketing company that promotes our states and cities abroad.
Brand USA was established a decade ago under the Travel Promotion Act to spur economic activity through international tourism—without having taxpayers foot the bill. Rather, Brand USA is funded in a creative way. It takes a small fee from international travelers through the Visa Waiver Program. That fee is then matched by the company’s 700 partner organizations, which benefit from Brand USA’s work.
Brand USA creates compelling marketing campaigns that showcase our sunny shores, urban scenes, and charming small towns to prospective international tourists. It has created a series of promotional videos and campaigns that capture the unique allure, beauty, and essence of America, making us stand out in the competitive global tourism market. From Alaska to Maine, Brand USA has helped drive international tourism to every state in the union, creating in the process 150,000 jobs. In other words, Brand USA has helped keep the unemployment rate at a record low.
Brand USA has an economic footprint larger than most corporations in America. Since it was established, it has made a nearly $50 billion impact on our economy. Its marketing efforts have drawn in 6.6 million visitors who have spent a collective $21.8 billion in our local communities. Tourism is the lifeblood of many state economies and one of their primary sources of revenue.
For example, in my home state of North Carolina, tourism is a major pillar of our economy. Brand USA brought in 48.3 million visitors who spent $63 million while they were here, supporting nearly 52,000 jobs each year and generating over $5 million in tax revenue that goes into funding our schools and paving our roads. Recently, Brand USA helped North Carolina shatter a tourism record, achieving a staggering 6 percent growth in visitors last year.
And, without the partnership, Travel South, the official tourism organization for the southern states, says we wouldn’t be able to reach international tourists. “International travel to the south is hugely important because it brings in new dollars to the southern destinations that we wouldn’t have otherwise,” said Liz Bittner, Travel South’s executive director.
But tourism, for both my state and the nation, will take a major hit if Congress does not reauthorize its partnership with Brand USA. Billions of dollars of economic activity and thousands of jobs that depend on Brand USA are on the chopping block. If the deal is not extended, many communities that rely on Brand USA will see fewer hotel rooms booked and fewer tourists at their small businesses. Without Brand USA, who else will promote them for free? Mom-and-pop stores can’t afford marketing campaigns that span the globe.
However, the good news is that this can be avoided if leaders in Congress like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) quickly reauthorize Brand USA soon—so, America can keep its crown as the world’s premier tourist destination.
Katlyn Batts is the Chairwoman of the Wingate University College Republicans and an employee of the Jesse Helms Center.