Foreign Press Center Briefing on the "Reenergizing U.S. Travel and Tourism"

Foreign Press Center Briefing on the

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MODERATOR: Good afternoon and welcome to today’s  New York Foreign Press Center briefing. My name   is Daphne Stavropoulos and I am today’s moderator.  It’s a pleasure and a privilege to introduce our   distinguished briefer, Grant Harris, the Assistant  Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Analysis.   Assistant Secretary Harris will discuss  the National Travel and Tourism Strategy   that the Department of Commerce released on  June 6th. It lays out an ambitious five-year   goal of increasing American jobs by attracting  and welcoming 90 million international visitors   who, it’s estimated, will spend  $279 billion annually by 2027. This briefing is on the record. If  you’ve not had the opportunity to do so,  

please go ahead and put your full name and  your media outlet so they appear on the screen.   And following the Assistant Secretary’s remarks,  I’ll open up the floor for questions. And with   that, it’s a pleasure to turn the floor over to  Assistant Secretary Harris. Thank you and welcome. ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARRIS: Thank you,   Daphne. Thank you to my colleagues from the  U.S. Government who helped arranged this.  

I’m really excited to have this conversation  and speak to you all about the National Travel   and Tourism Strategy that was announced last  month, so thank you for this opportunity.   I want to talk about the strategy and the  state of travel and tourism, the industry. There is a Tourism Policy Council that connects  all of our departments and agencies across the   U.S. Government, and it’s chaired by  the Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.  

This brings a whole-of-government focus  to our efforts on travel and tourism,   and it was this body that created  the new strategy that was referenced.   And the idea is to focus on increasing American  jobs and growing the economy through travel,   tourism, and outdoor recreation. We believe that  this strategy is going to create a more robust   and sustainable industry moving forward, which is  a priority for the Biden-Harris administration. We owe great thanks in developing this strategy  to industry and to many stakeholders who provided   a lot of comments, a lot of ideas, and a lot of  recommendations. This includes the U.S. Travel and   Tourism Advisory Board and many stakeholders with  whom we consulted in recent months in anticipation   of creating this strategy. So it’s really  informed by broad and extensive consultation  

not just within the government but across  industry and with a diverse range of stakeholders. For context, more than two years ago, COVID-19  forced an economic shutdown across the nation   and the world, and that hit travel  and tourism particularly hard.   The industry is still working to recover. In 2019,  79.4 million visitors came to the United States.  

That number fell to 19.2 million in  2020, so it dropped from 79.4 million   to 19.2 million, a precipitous decline. The  administration’s robust vaccine rollout efforts   and effective travel policies, including a recent  decision to eliminate pre-departure testing,   have helped U.S. tourism start to rebound. But we  have a lot of work to do to return all segments   of tourism in the United States to pre-pandemic  levels and to grow beyond those levels as well.

Let’s talk a little bit more specifically about  what the strategy does. As Daphne mentioned,   it’s got an ambitious goal of reaching 90  million international visitors by 2027,   and we hope that that will come with an  estimated spend of $279 billion annually.   This goal is based, again, on recommendations,  including from the Travel and Tourism Advisory   Board. It’s an ambitious one that  would support a lot of American jobs   and welcome a lot of internaitonal  visitors to this great country.

The strategy is centered on four pillars. The  first pillar is to promote the United States as   a travel destination. The second is to facilitate  travel to and within the United States. The third:   ensure diverse, inclusive, and  accessible travel experiences.   And the fourth is foster resilient  and sustainable travel and tourism. We recognize in putting forward this strategy  that the recovery of the travel and tourism   industry has been uneven. Some regions  and market segments in the United States,  

including business travel, will  need more help to bounce back. I want to talk for a moment about some of our  objectives in implementing this strategy. We   believe that as we improve travel, tourism, and  outdoor recreation across the United States,   that a few of these key elements of the strategy  will be incredibly important. This strategy will,   for instance, showcase tourism offerings across  the United States. It will help state, local,   and tribal governments identify opportunities to  access funding, to have resources for technical   assistance, to plan and build market and  manage sustainable tourism economies.

It will also help streamline the entry process to  the United States. The responsible entities for   that are primarily the Department of State  and the Department of Homeland Security.   It will support travel and tourism workers’  access to child care, reliable transportation,   and help us create career pathways,  especially for people of color and for women.   And as we work to build a stronger travel  and tourism and outdoor recreation sector,   we want to do so in a sustainable way that makes  it more resilient and reduces its contribution to   the climate crisis. And in our consultations with  companies and the industry, we think that adopting   these mitigation measures will be good for their  bottom lines and for their profits as well.

In advancing these goals, as I mentioned  before, it’s been a very collaborative process,   and it will continue to be. As we implement this  strategy, we’re going to be working with industry,   labor organizations, state,  local, and tribal governments,   and Congress. We also want to work  with our foreign partners, of course,   and we want to think creatively and be  innovative about how we help this sector grow. There are a few other things that I wanted  to mention in addition to the strategy to   give more context to the work that we’re doing in  this space. We’re working with Brand USA, which   is a public-private partnership that helps to  market the United States as a travel destination   and provides products and offerings that are  meant to encourage visitation to the United   States and help visitors find the right tourism  products for them. This work will continue,   and will be all the more important as we try  to highlight a diverse array of products across   the United States, including those in and  connected with underrepresented communities.

This is building on ongoing work by the  Biden-Harris administration that seeks to   revitalize the travel and tourism industry, and  I wanted to mention a few examples of that, too.   The Commerce Department’s Economic Development  Administration is distributing grants. They have   distributed $510 million in formula funding  to states and territories in the District   of Columbia, and these are all supporting  travel and tourism and outdoor recreation.   This is thanks to Congress and the  American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

The Economic Development Administration  is also now in the process of announcing   competitive funding. They’ll be issuing  $240 million total in competitive grants,   and they have announced so far a little  bit over $90 million of that amount. This   is a place where the administration has  been incredibly focused on current needs,   especially coming out of the pandemic,  and where Congress has been an incredible   partner in allocating these funds, appropriating  them, so that we can work together to provide   tourism economies and important partners the  resources that they need when they need it most.

To give a few examples, these types of funds  have gone to marketing grants in some states to   boost tourism to rural communities. Elsewhere, for  instance, in Florida, these funds are being used   to support marketing campaigns, which include  international digital marketing so that we’re   promoting online content in foreign countries.  And to simplify this, it means helping states   and other governments tell the story of  what many amazing things are on offer for   international visitors to come see and  do when traveling to the United States.

I wanted to mention as well before  closing out and taking your questions,   we have a very important office within the  Department of Commerce called the National   Travel and Tourism Office, which puts out  vital data and statistics to the industry.   And those are used for the industry’s purposes to  inform their private-sector decision making and   their planning. This group is also responsible for  many of the great policy ideas and the analysis   that goes into things like this strategy,  and they work day-in and day-out to enhance   the international competitiveness of  the U.S. travel and tourism industry. I would say, in closing, we are really focused on  a widespread recovery in the travel and tourism   industry. It’s going to take a lot of work  across our government and with Congress and   with stakeholders. And based on that, we think  that we will be really well placed to tell  

a very compelling and strong story about the  many offerings and tourism products across   this great and diverse country. We hope to see  a massive increase in international visitors. And with that, I’d welcome  any questions. Thank you. MODERATOR: Thank you so much for those opening  remarks. We will take a few questions. Please   raise – excuse me – your virtual hand and wait  for me to call on you, if you have a question. Okay. I see Alexey. Go ahead, Alexey. QUESTION: Hello to everyone. Mr. Harris,  the question is regarding visa policy.  

Citizens of many countries for entering into  the United States for tourism purpose to – the   visa are obligatories. So how will you plan to  achieve the goal if the, for example, the nearest   closest slots in the U.S. embassy and consulates  worldwide for the interview or submission of the   application for visa is like January, February,  March 2024? So it’s a long time of the waiting   without any guarantee that the visa will be  issued or the interview will be not postponed.

MODERATOR: Alexey, can you please just state your  full name and your outlet for the transcript? QUESTION: My name is Alexey Osipov and I am the  U.S. correspondent of Israeli Novosty Nedeli. ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARRIS: Thank you, Alexey.  It’s a great question, and we’re thinking very   hard about how we can get visa wait times down.  One of the effects of the pandemic, as it hit   the globe very hard, it also hit our embassies and  our consulates hard and caused a lot of closures.   And as they are reopening, it’s caused wait times  that are much higher than what we would hope for.   We’re working with the State Department and with  others in the U.S. Government to think about  

how those numbers can be decreased. The State  Department is very focused on this, and their   consular affairs and their colleagues are  looking at what can be done. They’re an important   part and an important partner in implementing  this strategy. This is going to be something   that we want to continue to work on so that we  are facilitating travel to and within the United   States, just as our stated goal is, and something  that we want to see progress on going forward. QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Alexey. I’m  also happy to connect you with the   Bureau of Consular Affairs at the State  Department for any follow-up questions. The next question will go to Alex. Alex, please  go ahead and introduce yourself, name and outlet. QUESTION:   Yes, Daphne. Thank you so much. This is Alex  Raufoglu from Turan News Agency of Azerbaijan. Assistant Secretary Harris, thank you for the  update on this topic. I have very quick question.  

You mentioned a number of reasons, particularly  the first reason comes to mind is COVID,   why those numbers came down the past couple of  years. But looking forward, do you think the war   that is going on in Europe, launched  by Russia, is or has been affecting   this issue at all and if this  is something you are looking at? And another question about the status  of the work and travel program.   Have you relaunched it fully and full  capacity? Are you considering to increase?   If I’m not mistaken there’s a quota or some  – toward some countries, Central Asian,   South Caucasian countries. Are you  planning to increase number of people   that might be able to take advantage of  this program? Thank you so much again.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARRIS: Thank you. I think  it was a connection issue, but on the second   part of the question, what program did you  reference? It cut out for just a moment. QUESTION: Oh, my apologies. ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARRIS:  Could you please repeat that? QUESTION: Yeah, my apologies. It was about the  work and travel program. It’s very famous in — ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARRIS: About  the work and travel program, yes. QUESTION: Yeah, very famous  in my part of the world, but — ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARRIS: Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, thanks so much. ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARRIS: Okay. Thank  you. Thank you for those questions.   In terms of Russia’s aggression in the  Ukraine and the war that they’ve started,   I’m not aware of a direct link to visa wait times  or travel and tourism as we’re talking about it   in the context of this national travel  and tourism strategy. Of course, though,   this has caused energy prices to spike, it’s  worsened inflation, it’s caused dramatic problems   around the globe in addition to the loss of human  life and the suffering. And this administration  

has been seized with doing everything  possible to try to bring an end to that war. In terms of the more specific question on  visas, this is part of the conversation,   and I’m hearing this a lot from industry.  I continue to meet very regularly with   important industry associations and corporations  and small business – small businesses as well in   this space, and they’re hearing that the visa  issue is multifaceted. It’s tourism visas but   it’s also the J-1s. It’s the worker programs.  It is a multisided issue of thinking about  

how executives can travel, how tourists  can travel, how the workforce is supported. So I would say, to take a step back, what we’re  hearing a lot from industry and what we’re focused   on are addressing visa wait times and thinking  about the workforce for the industry to make sure   that there are – that there is – the current needs  are met and that there is a pipeline going forward   of great people ready to go, wanting to be in this  industry and having the career pathways to do so. QUESTION: Thank you. MODERATOR: Thank you so much. The next  question came in through the chat and I   will read it aloud. It came in from Donghui Yu  from the China Review News Agency of Hong Kong.  

The journalist wants to know if – “Chinese  tourists were – are important parts of the   international tourism for the United States,  but because of the pandemic and a deteriorating   relationship, the two-way tourism between  China and the United States was interrupted.   Are there certain plans to resume  tourism between the two countries   and are you talking to your Chinese  counterparts to recover it?” ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARRIS: Great. For this  question, the Chinese Government has so much   influence and direction with respect to where its  citizens are traveling that it’s really a question   more for Beijing to understand what they are  looking for going forward. We in the past have   helped in the – our industries had important  partnerships with China to facilitate travel   for Chinese tourists. When – if and when  this is appropriate, in the days ahead,   we’re open to having these conversations again.  But I think the Chinese Government needs to signal   more of its intention in light of the pandemic  and its views as to the future for Chinese travel.

MODERATOR: The next question goes to David Smith. QUESTION:   Hello there. Hi. Two questions. One, I wonder,  in your job, how concerned are you that America   seems to get a lot of bad publicity these days in  the media, whether it’s gun violence, whether it’s   political polarization and images of January  the 6th flashing around the world, or myriad   other things. Is there any evidence that that is  putting some international tourists off visiting? And second on – maybe on a happier  note, just out of curiosity,   my assumption would be that lots of international  tourists think first of New York, maybe Hollywood,   maybe Florida for the sunshine. To what  extent are you working on encouraging tourists   to look elsewhere, to the now dreaded phrase,  so-called “flyover states?” Are there efforts to   kind of boost the popularity of – whether it’s  Detroit, whether it’s Colorado, other places? ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARRIS: Two really  important questions. On the first,  

we’re seeing a lot of pent-up demand  for travel to the United States   and we’re really encouraged by that, particularly  in the policies that we’re undertaking.   With the vaccine rollout and having  dropped the pre-departure testing,   we anticipate seeing greater numbers of visitors  coming, and we’re really excited for that. That   pent-up demand is not just our own analysis, but  what we’re hearing from industry across the board. With respect to the second question,  this is a really important issue and   an important aspect of the strategy. Our goal  is to increase visitation across the board,   but we specifically want to make sure that  rural communities, underserved communities,   less-visited sites – that a diverse set of  tourism products are at the forefront of what   we’re talking about. We are highlighting it all,  and as we do it, it’s not just about showcasing it   and telling the story, but it is also about  working with underserved communities and   outdoor recreation sites to make sure that  they’re ready for higher numbers of tourists.

That can mean a lot of different  things. So an example would be   working with a local tourism economy or a gateway  community, say nearby a federal park or nearby a   really popular – what could be a popular site,  and thinking about community-based management   tactics and techniques and best practices. We  have a variety of different grants, including   the EDA – Economic Development Administration –  grants that I mentioned. Some of those are geared  

towards outdoor recreation in particular.  We work with industry and coalitions for   messaging on how to sustainably support these  types of communities and support these products. And so the short answer – though I’ve  already made it a very long answer,   the short answer is this is a focus because we  want to increase visitation to all types of sites,   especially in under-represented  communities and outdoor locales. MODERATOR: Thank you so much. The next question  will go to Pearl. Pearl, please, go ahead. QUESTION: Thank you so much,  Daphne, for this opportunity, and   Mr. Harris, it’s a pleasure to talk to you and  hear what you’ve been sharing. My concern is   somewhat similar to what David was talking about,  but maybe with a slightly different approach. So  

not everywhere out there in reports, in media  – and I’m speaking from an African audience’s   perspective – is the sentiment pro-America, and  so my question to you would be: Even before COVID,   even maybe the Obama – as far back as maybe  five, seven years ago, we saw a lot of traffic of   U.S. tourists to the African continent. But  at the moment, given COVID restrictions, given   the pulling back of some of your consular  service within the State Department and so on,   where is that flow also from the African  continent to the U.S.? Because the U.S.   is not the most – it’s not the cheapest  destination for some of the tourists,   and like what David was saying, yes, the  Big Apple and some of these bigger cities. So I’m interested to find out what is it that  your office and perhaps your public diplomacy   colleagues are doing in terms of trying  to change the narrative, the sentiment   against the United States that may be out there,  particularly with the younger population, of which   Africa has a predominantly younger population.  So perhaps try to let us know what are you doing  

in other ways – other than  visa – changing this perception   and then increasing this two-way traffic,  particularly between the U.S. and Africa. Thanks. MODERATOR: Pearl, please, if you could just  state your name and your media outlet for the — QUESTION: Oh, sure, of course.  My name is Pearl Matibe   and Power FM 98.7 out of South Africa. Thanks. ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARRIS: Great. We want to  welcome as many African visitors as possible,   same for – for many region across the globe. But  I would say with respect to Africa in particular   and your question, one of the amazing  things – the many amazing things – that   we are able to showcase about the United States  is that the offerings are so diverse, and it   includes many different price points, it includes  many different interests and preferences that can   be accommodated, whether it’s more rural or urban  or outdoor or less populated or less traveled to.  

There are a lot of different ways  to experience the United States,   and we’re trying to tell that  story as effectively as possible. We’ve been analyzing the data as much as possible,  we’ve been talking with international partners,   talking to industry, and working  with Brand USA, as I mentioned,   which is really a key element of doing that.  They’re being very creative on social media   and elsewhere to try to highlight individual  stories of influencers out and about in less   traveled-to destinations, of thinking about  the many different things that are on offer. You’re right, especially as you’re talking about  the continent of Africa, and we’re well aware.   Africa will be a quarter of the globe’s  population by 2050. It’s a fast-growing,   young, dynamic population. It’s exactly the  type of population we want to engage with,  

and we want to be thoughtful about welcoming as  many visitors to the United States as possible. MODERATOR: We are very short on time. I see  one hand raised and this might be it. Yan,   can you introduce yourself and your  outlet, please, and ask your question? QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Yan Jin with  Caijing Magazine. My question is that you  

talk about that there’s a lot of pent-up  demands, and actually when you travel there’s   a lot of cost – especially, the June inflation  number just came out and it soared to the new   high. So can you explain how inflation’s going to  impact tourism? Is this your concern? Thank you. ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARRIS: Thank  you. Inflation is a top priority of   President Biden and his administration.  And we know, for instance, that this is   hurting American families, and he is seized  with doing all that the administration can.

When it comes to international travel, as I was  explaining, we’re seeing a lot of pent-up demand   and a lot of desire to travel to the United  States, and we’re really hopeful that these   numbers will continue to pick up. As I was  mentioning also, there are a lot of different   products, places to visit, price points,  ways to travel around the country.   So we’re still hopeful that we can meet this  ambitious number over the next five years,   and we’re going to keep doing everything that  we can to welcome visitors and hit that goal.

MODERATOR: So being respectful of your schedule  and I think we’re out of time, we appreciate you   joining us today, Assistant Secretary Harris.  Thank you for the time. Thank you to all the   journalists who joined us. Today’s briefing was on  the record. And we will post a transcript, and I   will email it to all the participants as well at  the end of the day. Thank you and good afternoon.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HARRIS:  Thank you so much, everyone.

2022-07-16 19:36

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