Brand USA is critical to economies in every corner of the country
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As residents of three of America’s great Southern cities, we believe there is an important action Congress can take this year that will immensely boost America’s economy, exports and jobs—and has broad bipartisan support: renew Brand USA.

Travel is America’s second-largest industry export, generating a trade surplus last year of $69 billion—without which the overall national trade deficit would have been 12 percent higher. However, that positive balance of trade is jeopardized by America’s slipping share of the global travel market, which dropped from 13.7 percent in 2015 to its current 11.7 percent.

That decline represents a difference of 14 million visitors and a hit to the U.S. economy of $59 billion in spending and 120,000 American jobs.

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Those declines would have been far worse without Brand USA.

Brand USA, the public-private partnership tasked with promoting the United States as a travel destination to visitors abroad, is set to expire in 2020. The program attracts travelers to American destinations from key source markets such as the United Kingdom, China and Australia. Brand USA’s marketing efforts over the past six years have generated more than 6.6 million incremental international visitors, $22 billion in visitor spending, $47.7 billion in total economic output and supported an average of 52,000 American jobs annually.

Still, Congress has yet to secure Brand USA’s long-term reauthorization. This is despite Brand USA’s strong bipartisan support: vast numbers of members in both the House and Senate signed letters exhorting their colleagues to advance Brand USA’s reauthorization. The “Brand USA Extension Act” (S. 2203) overwhelmingly passed the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in July, garnering enthusiastic support on both sides of the aisle.

The irony is that Brand USA does not cost American taxpayers a single penny, relying instead on a small fee paid by international visitors, plus matching contributions from the American private sector. Some of our biggest rivals for international visitors—such as France, Italy and Spain—heavily fund their tourism promotion budgets using taxpayer dollars; allowing Brand USA to lapse would leave the U.S. severely outmatched in the fierce competition for international visitor dollars.

While we represent destinations in the American South, Brand USA’s mission is to promote destinations to, through and beyond America’s gateway cities, ensuring all pockets of this country benefit from the economic rewards of international visitation. While Americans know how exciting the cities of Atlanta, Nashville and New Orleans are, Brand USA makes sure visitors around the world know too.

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And overseas visitors to our cities are some of the most lucrative there are, spending on average $4,200 per person, per trip. These high-spending travelers play a major role in boosting our local economies.

There is broad private-sector support for Brand USA in all 50 states, with almost 600 businesses and travel organizations signing a letter last year in support of the program’s reauthorization.

This program is a prime example of smart policymaking, with a proven track record and an impressive return on investment without cost to U.S. taxpayers. It is crucial that Congress recognize travel and tourism’s value to the American economy and the South and reauthorize Brand USA this year. Doing so will ensure the “Rhythms of the South”—and its attendant benefits to Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee—reach as many potential visitors as possible.

William Pate is president and CEO of Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau. Stephen Perry is president and CEO of New Orleans & Company. Butch Spyridon is president and CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation.