AH&LA Members Highlight Business Travel Challenges At Senate Committee Hearing
Senate Examines ‘Tourism in Troubled Times’
The group of AH&LA industry witnesses, which included Jay Witzel, president and CEO of Carlson Hotels; Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts; and Judy Zehnder Keller, owner of the Bavarian Inn Lodge in Frankenmuth, Michigan, spoke at length about business travel and its importance to their bottom line.
“An environment has been created in America where legitimate business travel is being questioned and cancelled. This translates into additional loss of jobs, taxes, and travel-related revenues for an industry that is already hard-hit from the general economic recession,” said Carlson Hotels’ Jay Witzel.
This hearing was also held to discuss the newly introduced Travel Promotion Act, a bill designed to promote the United States as an international travel destination through international advertising campaigns.
Judy Zehnder Keller of the Bavarian Inn Lodge shared the small business owner perspective, telling the committee, “You might ask how the state of Michigan can justify spending tax dollars on tourism promotion given the huge deficit we are experiencing with the auto industry meltdown. Visitors spend over $18 billion annually in Michigan, generating $874 million in state taxes and accounting for 192,000 jobs.”
Disney Parks and Resorts chairman Jay Rasulo repeated that theme in his testimony. “We are only asking that United States to establish what nearly every other major foreign market already has: a nationally coordinated and well-funded travel promotion campaign. It is important to point out that in these times when the Congress is understandably wary of new spending, the Travel Promotion Act would use no taxpayer dollars. Instead, it would be funded through a small fee collected from overseas visitors, combined with matching funds from the travel industry. This isn’t a free ride for industry,” he concluded.
Sen. Klobuchar called on her Senate colleagues to pass the legislation, remarking in her opening statement, “We are a country that has opened our arms to people around the world. So we need to look at new, creative and compelling ways to promote travel to the U.S. Passing the Travel Promotion Act this Congress would be a good first step.”
The idea for this hearing of the Senate Commerce’s Subcommittee on Competitiveness, Innovation, and Export Promotion was sparked by a discussion with the Senator’s staff during the March 2009 AH&LA Legislative Action Summit.
During the LAS meeting with her state’s delegation, Sen. Klobuchar recognized the importance of the travel industry in her state and the detrimental effect that unnecessary criticism of business travel by certain members of Congress was having on the U.S. travel industry. Tom Polski of Carlson Hotels and AH&LA staff suggested that a hearing would help Congress understand the importance of travel to the nation’s economic health, and the Senator agreed.
At yesterday’s hearing, one witness told the saga of Las Vegas, Nevada, where over 400 meetings were cancelled because of fears of negative publicity about business travel. 46,000 jobs were impacted as a result. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), whose testimony opened the hearing, stated succinctly why he supports travel: “Simply put, our state depends on visitors.”
AH&LA’s President/CEO Joe McInerney said after the hearing, “It’s very important for our members to come to Washington and tell the Senate how important travel and tourism is for their businesses and their communities. Travel means business, and business means economic recovery. I’m pleased Senator Klobuchar held this hearing, for it highlighted some very important facts about our industry’s immense contribution to our nation’s economic health.”
An online video of the entire hearing, as well as transcripts of the witness’ hearing statements, can be viewed via this Senate Webpage.