Smart Plan To Market U.S. Abroad

Chef roy Yamaguchi. Photo from Mufi Hannemann

Yes, we know states like California and Florida are magnets for tourists. According to the U.S. Travel Association, those states annually generate about $99 billion and $70 billion in travel spending and 858,000 and 757,000 direct jobs, respectively.

But even states not known internationally as travel destinations, say Missouri or Oklahoma, enjoy the benefits of travel. The Show Me State can point to $12 billion in tourism spending and 125,600 direct jobs, while the Sooner State reaps $6 billion in spending and 77,800 jobs.

For those of us in Hawaii, there’s no denying that tourism is our top industry, the most significant single source of private sector employment and a major revenue-producer. We recognize tourism’s importance.

But despite the contributions of tourism to our nation, the federal government has been slow to support the visitor industry. Billions in federal dollars have been spent to market American goods and services overseas, such as farm products, but with no commensurate support for tourism despite its role in the economies of every state.

That’s about to change. The passage of the Tourism Promotion Act, signed into law by President Obama in March, should provide a welcome boost to our fortunes by marketing U.S. tourism in foreign markets – for the first time ever.

This act was one of the initiatives I pushed when I served as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Committee on Tourism. Thanks to congressional advocates like U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, we secured passage of this legislation that will direct federal resources to promoting international travel to the United States. The program is in the Department of Commerce and under the direction of a nonprofit corporation, with noted Island chef Roy Yamaguchi an active member of the governing board.

Funding for the marketing will come from visa fees. Combined with our continuing efforts to ease visa restrictions from friendly nations, and to strike a better balance between homeland security and hospitality, we expect this new initiative to attract 1.6 million new visitors from abroad, generate $4 billion in additional spending, produce $321 million in federal tax revenues and create 40,000 jobs.

The international marketing initiative is expected to kick off during the second half of this year. That will dovetail perfectly with the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit being held this November in Honolulu.

These two developments can only help the travel industry and our island economy at a time when we need them most.