Program to attract foreign visitors is an economic benefit to the US and should be reauthorized
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Our state is one of the world’s leaders in tourism and the 12th District, which I represent in the United States Congress, is home to many popular tourist destinations. The sponge docks in Tarpon Springs, Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, Safety Harbor Resort and Spa and Honeymoon Island in Dunedin are a few of the growing number of special venues right here attracting countless visitors from around the globe annually. These visitors, and the tourism industry, are vital to our economy, generating over 1.4 million jobs and accounting for more than 10 percent of Florida’s entire Gross Domestic Product, according to a January 2018 Florida Trend article. Additionally, the article notes that out-of-state visitors spent a record $112 billion in Florida and paid $11.6 billion in state and local taxes in 2016. 

As co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus and as a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee which has jurisdiction over travel and tourism, I have been in a unique position to help contribute to the increase in travel and tourism that our state has enjoyed in recent years. One key initiative I spearheaded was sponsorship of, the Travel Promotion, Enhancement, and Modernization Act, which was signed into law in December of 2014. This important bill reauthorized Brand USA, a vital program with a proven track record of success.  The program increases the number of international visitors to the United States without utilizing a cent of taxpayer money.

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Brand USA is a public-private partnership that has served as the nation’s first cooperative destination marketing organization. The organization has grown America’s share of the global travel market. Through a combination of voluntary private sector contributions and a nominal fee on foreign visitors, Brand USA’s activities are aimed at influencing increased global visitation to and spending in the United States.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that my legislation would cut the deficit by $264 million over the five-year period during which the program was reauthorized. Brand USA’s efforts were responsible for bringing over 1.1 million visitors to America last year – visitors who would not have otherwise traveled here. These tourists spent $8.5 billion. Now is the time to begin planning for this important program’s long-term sustainability, which is why I am working across the aisle now to file legislation that will extend this highly successful program beyond its current sunset date of 2020. Additionally, my legislation will fix a technical statutory issue that would redirect the funds currently paid by tourists which help offset the costs of this valuable tourism-boosting program to other non-tourism related purposes in the future. 

The importance of tourism cannot be overstated. Quite frankly, the continuation of a well-established program that fosters more tourism, creates tens of thousands of jobs, increases revenue, and lowers the deficit without cost to taxpayers is a no-brainer. I hope my House and Senate colleagues join me in extending this common sense program and perpetuating the economic boon. It’s the right thing to do.

Bilirakis represents Florida's 13th District and is a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.