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Remarks at Travel and Tourism Town Hall, Orlando, Florida

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Monday, May 3, 2010

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Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke
Remarks at Travel and Tourism Town Hall
Orlando, Florida

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Clearly, Florida’s hospitality industry is in good shape with young people like Renea coming on board, and I want to thank her for the kind introduction.

It’s great to be here in Orlando with Senator Nelson—who doing such a great job for you in Congress—and with the people who are keeping this region one of America’s top vacation destinations.

I especially want to thank the University of Central Florida and the Rosen College of Hospitality Management, and Gary Sain for their hospitality today.

Like so many others, my family and I were in Orlando not too long ago during a school break with my wife and three children.

I think it was Robert Benchley, who said, “In America, there are two classes of travel—first class and with children.”

But like everyone who visits here, we had a wonderful time and a lot of fun.

And my wife Mona and I got a two-thumbs up from all three of the Locke kids, Emily, Dylan and Madeline, for choosing this area for our holiday.

So I’m delighted to have this opportunity to personally thank you not only for creating a family-friendly vacation spot, but more importantly, for what your industry contributes to our economy and employment.

Putting people back to work is the number one priority of the Obama administration.

That’s what this past year has been all about. It’s what this coming year will be all about. And before I get started today, I’d like to announce a major new initiative to create opportunity in this region.

In recent months, President Obama has announced a bold, new approach to human spaceflight. Supported by a $6 billion increase to the NASA budget over the next five years, this strategy will foster the development of path-breaking technologies, increase the reach and reduce the cost of human and robotic space exploration, and help create thousands of new jobs.

This administration is committed to making sure that we help local economies like Florida’s Space Coast adjust and thrive in the years ahead.

That’s why this morning, President Obama issued a memorandum establishing the Task Force on Space Industry Workforce and Economic Development. This $40 million interagency effort—which I will co-chair—will develop an action plan to facilitate economic development along the Space Coast and provide training and other opportunities for affected aerospace workers

The Task Force will hold inaugural meetings with local stakeholders within 60 days. And we owe the president a detailed action plan by August 15 on how this $40 million can best be spent to help the region.

So, please everybody stay tuned.

The space industry is obviously such an important part of this region’s economy. So too, is travel and tourism

Today, one out of every16 Americans works, either directly or indirectly, in travel and tourism-related industries.

It is an industry that:

  • Generates nearly $1.3 trillion in economic output each year;
  • Supports more than 8.2 million American jobs; and,
  • Attracted international visitors who spent $121 billion in the United States in 2009.

Additionally, because money spent in the United States by international travelers counts as an export, the travel and tourism industry accounts for 24 percent of all U.S. services exports and eight percent of our total exports.

Despite the recent economic downturn, the United States still enjoyed a $22 billion trade surplus for travel and tourism in 2009.

After a difficult period for the industry when growth in international visits evaporated in late 2008 and 2009, I’m pleased to report that things appear to be changing for the better.

2010 looks promising—international arrivals increased 10 percent in January 2010, the first double-digit increase since May 2008.

At the Commerce Department, we’re working hard to accelerate this recovery.

On March 4, I was privileged to be with the president when he signed the Travel Promotion Act of 2009, which, as you know, had broad support from the industry and Congress.

The act creates a public-private partnership called the Corporation for Travel Promotion.

This new alliance between the U.S. government and the nation’s travel and tourism industry will help to bring more international visitors to come to the United States.

The Commerce Department will have the lead.

And the president’s last comment to me as he was shaking my hand and about to leave the Oval Office, was “Gary Locke. . . .make sure you do it right!”

That is exactly what we intend to do.

On April 19th, we published a Federal Register Notice soliciting applications from industry professionals, which I will use to appoint the inaugural board of directors of the new Corporation for Travel Promotion.

While we’re working on the board selection, we’re also engaged with Homeland Security on getting the system set up as quickly as possible for the fee collection necessary to fund the corporation.

Last week, I met with the interagency Tourism Policy Council to discuss coordinating federal policies affecting the industry.

I also recently chaired the inaugural meetings of the new 29-member Travel and Tourism Advisory Board (TTAB), which provides us with advice on industry’s issues and interests.

Coordination between the council and the advisory board will help us maximize the effectiveness of our efforts.

We continue to work closely with the State Department on facilitating business visas for improved participation in trade shows, exhibitions and meetings.

And the Commerce Department isn’t limited to just helping to shape industry policies and regulations.

We have a great team of experts working to create a competitive business environment for you.

  • We have industry experts in our Office of Travel and Tourism Industries.
  • We have a sales force of Commercial Service officers positioned in almost 80 countries across the globe and 109 offices throughout the United States.
  • We also partner with 35 Visit USA Associations throughout the world to enhance communications and export promotion efforts.

All of these efforts are going to dovetail with President Obama’s broader plans to spur American exports through the National Export Initiative.

He specifically used the Travel Promotion Act as an example of a model law for establishing active trade promotion and marketing efforts.

Obviously, we are putting on a full court press. And we look forward to working with you to let the world know that Florida and all of the United States is a fascinating, wonderful, and welcoming place to visit.

Now I would be happy to hear your comments or take questions…

{Question and Answer period]

I know we could go on all day with this topic, but I’ll just end by saying thank you again for being here, and I hope Orlando and Orange County have a terrific summer visitor season and 2010!