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Remarks by Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board


Thank you, Brian, for that kind introduction, and thank you to the team of our National Travel and Tourism Office for making this Advisory Board such a success.

Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to the Department of Commerce.

This is the first meeting of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board for the two-year term ending in 2020. It’s good to see some familiar faces back on the Board, and I welcome the contributions that will be made from our new members.

Thank you for your civic engagement, and for taking the time out your busy schedules to work together in this public / private partnership aimed at making the United States travel and tourism industry the strongest in the world. This Board represents a diverse selection of industry sub-sectors and travel destinations from across our country. We appreciate your expertise and look forward to your advice on improving the competitiveness of the industry. And thank you, John for your continued leadership of the Board.

We are here because we recognize how important international travel and tourism is to the American economy. We know that the trade surplus in services helps mitigate the large imbalances in our trade deficit in goods. But what most people don’t realize is the over-sized role your industry plays in total exports.

Travel and tourism accounts for almost one-third — or an impressive 32 percent — of all U.S. services exports, and 11 percent of all U.S. exports. Travel to the United States for business, medical treatment, education, and leisure supports 1.2 million jobs across the country. The National Travel and Tourism Office just reported that there were nearly 77 million international visitors to the United States in 2017, an increase of almost 1 percent from 2016. These visitors spent a record $251.4 billion.

The number of foreign visitors to the United States in 2018 remains strong, and they continue spending at a record-setting pace, up by 3 percent for the seven months ending in July as compared to the same period in 2017. Spending by international visitors has set records in eight of the last 10 years. All of that inbound travel means that your industry generated a trade surplus of more than $77.4 billion last year. Foreign visitors are a valuable component of the American economy.

As chair of the Federal government’s Tourism Policy Council, I am committed to working with you to support and grow your industry. We want to attract millions of more visitors to our country and boost the wages and job prospects for thousands of American workers.

Everything is in place for more growth: we have the most spectacular and diverse geography of any country on the planet; we have cultural attractions second to none; and we have an infrastructure to get people to where they want to be. Still, we must be sure to press our advantage to assure a new era of growth for your workers and businesses.

We are pleased to have with us today Nazak Nikakhtar, our Assistant Secretary for Industry and Analysis in the International Trade Administration. She has been instrumental in the Commerce Department’s work on trade issues. Later in the meeting, Nazak will share her thoughts with you on current trends in trade policy.

We are also pleased to have with us our new Deputy Assistant Secretary for Travel and Tourism, Phil Lovas. Phil’s background includes nearly 15 years in the hotel business. He is well acquainted with the issues that you will address, and we are fortunate to have somebody with his expertise on our team.

The Administration is committed to making the United States the world’s most appealing destination for global travelers. We want to do an even better job of communicating to the world that the United States is a welcome and open destination for legitimate visitors. I look forward to working with you, and in receiving your recommendations on how we can help support the competitiveness of your industry.

Thank you.

The Secretary’s Guidance for the Board

Thank you, John, and members of the Board, for sharing your views on opportunities and challenges for the U.S. travel and tourism industry, and on how we can work together. I would like to ask the Board to develop specific recommendations around three main areas related to the competitiveness of the industry.

As a first task, please review the recommendations made by the previous Board concerning numerical goals for international visitors and spending through 2027. You should be able to do this now that we have newly revised data from the National Travel and Tourism Office. We have not updated our international visitation and spending goals since 2012. I would like the Board to recommend a national goal on annual international visitor spending and arrivals through 2027. Once we have a common target, the public and private sectors can work together on priorities to achieve these goals.

As a second task for the Board, please explore how the U.S. Government can accelerate progress on implementing the biometric entry and exit system for travelers. This effort is led by the Department of Homeland Security. It aims to improve security and create an efficient, seamless, and secure experience for travelers entering and exiting the United States. We would like for you to provide us with recommendations on how the public and private sectors can work together to accelerate progress on implementing the system.

A third task for the Board is to develop a set of recommendations on issues associated with workforce and skills development. This past July, President Trump signed an Executive Order creating the National Council for the American Worker. I co-chair this interagency Council with Ivanka Trump, Labor Secretary Acosta, and White House Domestic Policy Council Director, Andrew Bremberg. We have been charged with creating a national workforce strategy.

I seek your input in developing this strategy, especially as it relates to education and training programs. The apprenticeships being introduced by the lodging and restaurant industries offer a good example of ideas that can be implemented nationally. The Board can provide recommendations on how technology will affect your workforce, and how workers can take advantage of opportunities presented by the adoption of new technologies. Please also capture best practices in state, local, and private-sector tourism workforce development. These best practices will be used in developing the Administration’s larger goals in workforce development.

I look forward to receiving your recommendations on the national goal for visitors and spending by mid-December. The recommendations on biometrics and workforce development can follow in February 2019. Deputy Assistant Secretary Lovas and the National Travel and Tourism Office are available to facilitate your work.

I look forward to your recommendations, and pledge to help you grow your industry. I hope you continue to have a productive session, and that your two-year term on this Board is extremely successful. Thank you.