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

AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY

Introduced by Brian Beall of ITA’s National Travel and Tourism Office

Thank you, Brian, for that kind introduction. Good afternoon everyone, and welcome to the Commerce Department. It’s great to see you again. Thank you for your dedication to the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board. Thanks also to John and Kurt for your leadership of the Board.

The Board’s policy recommendations on a range of issues will guide our actions as we move forward. Your industry is essential to the U.S. economy. Last year, it generated a trade surplus of more than $69 billion, and supported almost 8 million American jobs.

Overall, travel and tourism accounted for 31 percent of U.S. services exports and 10 percent of total U.S. exports. In 2018, almost 80 million international visitors spent $256 billion in the United States, both yearly records. These visits for business, medical, education, and leisure, supported 1.2 million jobs across the country.

Last December, your Board made recommendations to generate more travel to and within the United States. On June 25th, I discussed these recommendations with the Tourism Policy Council and its representatives from the Departments of State, Homeland Security, Transportation, Interior, Agriculture, Labor, SBA, and the White House National Economic Council.

At that meeting, the TPC agreed with your recommendation for a new annual goal of $445 billion of spending by 116 million international visitors by the end of 2028.

The National Travel and Tourism Office is working with those agencies to revise the National Travel and Tourism Strategy. We look forward to updating you on our progress at the next T-TAB meeting.

Last year, I also asked for your recommendations about a national workforce strategy.  
I was especially interested in how technology is affecting your industry’s workforce needs, and in learning about best practices for training and recruitment. Several of your recent recommendations connect directly with those being generated by the National Workforce Policy Advisory Board to the White House National Council for the American Worker, which I co-chair with Ivanka Trump.

The Workforce Advisory Board is studying and developing recommendations to: Develop a campaign to promote multiple pathways to career success; Increase data transparency to better match American workers with American jobs; Modernize candidate recruitment and training practices; And measure and encourage employer-led training investments.

The Trump Administration has launched a new “Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship System,” a major effort to spur employer-led training. Thank you for supporting this new system, as well as the existing Registered Apprenticeship program run by the Department of Labor and its state partners.

As you note in your recommendations, additional public funding can help establish new apprenticeship programs in the travel and tourism industry. The Department of Labor has $100 million in funding available for about 30 apprenticeship grants. These will go to public / private partnerships to develop new apprenticeship models and expand existing apprenticeship programs.

The funding source is the fees companies pay to hire foreign workers under the H-1B visa program. These fees are then provided as grants for training American workers in the occupations for which employers are hiring H-1B workers, such as IT jobs.  

The Department of Labor is expanding its apprenticeship programs to include cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, since every sector of the economy requires workers with these skillsets. I encourage you to consider how companies and associations in the travel and tourism industry might partner with training organizations applying for these grants. 

I also encourage your associations, unions, and education partners to consider applying to be a Standards Recognition Entity. These entities are the core of the new Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Program. They will set standards for training and curricula in relevant industries and occupations.

I also appreciate your recommendation that the government create a website to educate the public about travel-related careers and apprenticeship programs. This recommendation is an example of a much broader lack of information — or even mis-information — about good career opportunities in your industry.

Under the leadership of CEOs Tim Cook of Apple and Ginni Rometty of IBM, one of the working groups of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board is creating a national marketing campaign to promote the pathways to available jobs and careers. Specific recommendations on this campaign will be described at the September meeting of the Workforce Advisory Board. 

My staff will be pleased to brief you on those recommendations to ensure that the travel and tourism industry is represented in these efforts. Your final set of recommendations involve the U.S. Government implementing a biometric entry and exit system at our ports of entry.

The Commerce Department is working with Customs and Border Protection to determine how the public and private sectors can work together to accelerate progress. There are representatives here today from the Departments of State, Homeland Security and Labor to provide you with information and feedback on these recommendations. The State Department also has updates on current efforts related to visas, and on efforts to negotiate bilateral open-skies agreements. The Department of Homeland Security will provide you with background on its travel facilitation initiatives, including implementation of the biometric entry / exit process. And the Department of Labor will provide information on its apprenticeship and certification programs for the travel and tourism industry. 

Finally, President Trump is exploring the possibility of rejoining the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization on terms that are beneficial to the United States. We are supporting the State Department’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs, which is responsible for U.S. engagement with UN organizations.

Rejoining the UN-WTO could provide an opportunity for the United States to leverage the organization’s strengths in support of global travel and tourism. We ask your advice on the potential advantages of rejoining the UN-WTO. Include ideas in which the public and private sectors can work together to leverage U.S. membership, particularly in the areas of global policy development, innovation, and investment in emerging markets.  

So — with that — as you can see, there is a lot going on, and there is more work ahead: Challenges and opportunities are never in short supply. 

I ask John Sprouls, our Board Chairman, to provide us with comments about these issues and others that will be discussed today.
 

Leadership