The North Texas economy has fared better than most of the nation, and one of the drivers might be unexpected: travel and tourism.
Travel, in fact, is an economic growth engine worldwide. To keep that motor humming domestically and locally, we need to encourage federal policy that ensures the steady flow of lucrative international tourism.
One crucial step is something that Congress is considering right now: the renewal of the Brand USA program to promote international travel to this country.
Before this effort launched in 2010, the United States had no national organization to promote our country as a destination for international travelers.
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Most other developed countries, many with economies much smaller than the U.S., have a cabinet-level “tourism minister” and spend tens of millions of dollars to promote their countries.
The U.S. simply was not competing effectively on the global tourism stage. Brand USA has filled a critical gap, but unless Congress reauthorizes the original legislation, the program will expire in 2015.
This program deserves support from all legislators because it adds huge value, and it does not cost U.S. taxpayers one dime. Brand USA is completely paid for by foreign visitors and is matched by private contributions from companies such as Sabre.
The U.S. travel industry supports the program because the return on this investment is substantial.
Oxford Economics, an independent economic analysis firm, measured Brand USA’s impact in 2013, and the results were overwhelming: It helped attract 1.1 million more international travelers to the U.S. that year, with a total economic benefit of $7.4 billion.
Clearly, renewing Brand USA is important to the nation. It’s also important to Fort Worth and our region.
Perhaps more than any other place in the country, North Texas shows that you don’t have to live in Florida, California, Hawaii or New York City to see economic gains from travel. We are a prominent destination in our own right.
Our region has 75,000 hotel rooms and more restaurants per capita than New York City. With world-class sites such as Sundance Square, the Stockyards, the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth Zoo and so many others, the amenities of Fort Worth are world-class.
And let’s not forget nearby AT&T Stadium, which already has attracted the Super Bowl, the NCAA Final Four and the 2015 BCS championship game.
To accommodate growing demand for travel, DFW International Airport continues to add direct routes from points around the globe. This expansion of international routes has generated more than $1 billion in new annual economic activity for North Texas, according to a 2013 study.
As a proud North Texan and a travel technology professional, I’ll stake this region’s qualities against just about any city in the world. Travel was the second-fastest-growing U.S. industry last year and has recovered 138 percent of the jobs it lost during the recession.
North Texas is thriving in large part because of economic diversity, and travel is a major contributor. Brand USA has fostered greater, more secure and efficient travel to the U.S., all without charging taxpayers.
North Texas businesses, communities and residents all reap the rewards.
Please join me in asking Congress to reauthorize Brand USA this year so we can continue this important economic development work without delay or interruption.
Tom Klein is CEO and president of Southlake-based Sabre Corp. and vice chairman of the Brand USA board of directors.