With our world-class beaches, access to culinary gems and beautiful weather, those of us who are fortunate enough to call Santa Monica home are in the know about all the wonderful reasons our city is a top travel destination in California.
Tourism is vital to our thriving economy. In 2018 alone, travel and tourism in Santa Monica supported nearly 12,600 local jobs and generated $1.96 billion in visitor spending. Our city is a prime example of how the travel industry is a top economic performer for the country as a whole. But that success doesn’t come without a little bit of help.
Brand USA, the public-private partnership tasked with promoting the United States as a travel destination to visitors abroad, is set to expire in 2020. Brand USA works for America, and it is crucial that Congress secure its long-term reauthorization.
Overseas visitors are some of the most lucrative, spending an average of about $4,200 per per-son, per trip. And Brand USA’s mission to promote destinations to and beyond the largest “gateway” cities ensures all pockets of America benefit from the economic rewards of international visitation.
Here in Santa Monica, Brand USA’s efforts helped us extend our message and welcome more than 4.3 million international visitors in 2018. In fact, more than half of visitors to Santa Monica last year were from abroad. These visitors stay longer and use public transportation – in fact 82% of overnight visitors do not use a car to get around Santa Monica once they’ve arrived.
Thankfully, California’s officials understand how vital international visitors are to the state’s economy. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), Santa Monica’s representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, recently joined more than 100 other bipartisan members of Congress in signing a “Dear Colleague” letter supporting Brand USA’s reauthorization. It is our hope that House Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) recognize the value of Brand USA to the Golden State’s economy and can unite the House in reauthorizing this important program this year.
Looking at the country as a whole, travel is America’s second-largest industry export, generating a trade surplus last year of $69 billion—without which the overall national trade deficit would have been 11% higher. However, that positive balance of trade is jeopardized by America’s slipping share of the global travel market, which dropped from 13.7% in 2015 to its current 11.7%.
That decline represents a difference of 14 million visitors and a hit to the U.S. economy of $59 billion in spending and 120,000 American jobs.
The proven success of Brand USA prevented the market-share decline from being worse. Brand USA’s marketing efforts over the past six years have generated more than 6.6 million incremental international visitors, $22 billion in visitor spending, $47.7 billion in total economic out-put and supported an average of 52,000 American jobs annually.
Best of all? Brand USA does all of its important work at zero cost to the American taxpayer, relying instead on a small fee charged to ESTA-approved international travelers to the United States, plus matching contributions from the American private sector. Some of our biggest rivals for international visitors—such as France, Italy, and Spain—heavily fund their tourism promotion budgets; allowing Brand USA to lapse would leave the U.S. severely outmatched in the fierce competition for international visitor dollars.
There is broad private-sector support for Brand USA in all 50 states, with almost 600 business-es and travel organizations signing a letter last year in support of the program’s reauthorization. Brand USA also has strong bipartisan support in Congress: in addition to the U.S. House “Dear Colleague” letter, nearly 50 senators signed a similar “Dear Colleague” letter. The “Brand USA Extension Act” (S. 2203) overwhelmingly passed the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in July, garnering enthusiastic bipartisan support.
This program is a prime example of smart policymaking, with a proven track record and an impressive return on investment without cost to U.S. taxpayers. It is crucial that Congress recognize travel and tourism’s value to the American economy and to us here in Santa Monica—and reauthorize Brand USA this year.