August 4, 2009 | WebMemo on Homeland Security
The Senate is set to reconsider a cloture vote on the Tourism Promotion Act of 2009. This legislation would create another government entity--this time a corporation, funded on the backs of foreign tourists--to be used to promote travel to the U.S.
While promoting tourism is absolutely vital to America's economic well-being, this is just the kind of activity that the government should stay out of. Taxing tourists so that the U.S. can encourage tourism simply makes no sense and sends the wrong message to America's allies. Instead of promoting tourism through the Tourism Promotion Act, the government should stick to its current tourism-related responsibilities: making travel to the U.S. easier by expanding the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), improving visa services, and upgrading infrastructure at key ports of entry.
Tourism Positive for the U.S.
In 2008, foreign travelers spent $100 billion in the United States. In fact, foreign tourists often spend three times more than domestic travelers on items like souvenirs, restaurants, and hotels, providing an extraordinary investment in the U.S. economy.
Aside from the economic benefits, tourism also helps promote America's image abroad. When foreign travelers come to America, interact with Americans, and gain an understanding of what makes America great, they then share these positive experiences with members of their own societies, helping to improve America's image around the world.
The Tourism Promotion Act
As Ambassador John Bruton, head of the European Commission Delegation, phrased it, the Tourism Promotion Act "sounds very reasonable. But there's a catch. While seeking to attract international visitors, the same legislation would also foot them with the bill for paying for this program." The bill would place a $10 per person tax on visitors coming to the United States under the VWP. While $10 may not seem like a lot of money, it could be used to purchase a night at a casual restaurant, baseball tickets, or a cab ride. And for families traveling together, the cost would only be compounded. By taxing a family of six $60, the VWP would, in essence, penalize larger families who decide to bring their children to visit the U.S.
Furthermore, since this bill was introduced, there have been proposals that would increase the tax to $20 per person. While not necessarily a part of the final bill, such a proposal demonstrates that there is an appetite in Congress for increasing the amount of the tax. Over the long term, increased fees could kill the VWP by making it economically unfeasible for foreign travelers to use the program.
Encouraging tourists to come to the United States is an admirable goal. But it is simply illogical to do so by taxing foreign visitors. Furthermore, this bill is a bad approach for the following additional reasons:
The government can best promote America by making its travel processes easier, more streamlined, and safer. This makes travel more enjoyable, which, in turn, makes tourists more likely to visit the U.S. Consequently, the government should do the following:
Leave It to the Experts
The United States can and should take its tourism industry seriously. It should be a better facilitator of travel and work with America's allies to expand opportunities for those who desire to visit the U.S. But marketing and promotion is not what the government does best. Washington should leave the P.R. blitz to those who do it the best: the private sector.
Jena Baker McNeill is Policy Analyst for Homeland Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.