More visitors equals more jobs, according to President Barack Obama, who kicked off Memorial Day weekend yesterday by evangelizing the economic benefits of travel and tourism to a crowd of 150 invited guests at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Obama is the first-ever sitting president to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, which attracts nearly 300,000 annual visitors who generate more than $160 million in local economic impact. The purpose of his appearance was to promote the latest travel initiatives
stemming from his administration’s National Travel and Tourism Strategy, launched two years ago
to increase travel to and within the United States, with the ultimate goal of attracting 100 million international visitors annually by 2021 — up from 70 million in 2013.
“I’m here in Cooperstown to talk about some new steps that will lead to more tourism not just within America, but getting more folks to come and visit ... the national treasures that we have all across this country, including the Baseball Hall of Fame right here in Cooperstown — because tourism translates into jobs and it translates into economic growth,” Obama said in his remarks. “When visitors come here, they don’t just check out the Hall. They rent cars; they stay in hotels; they eat at restaurants. And that means for Upstate New York, the Baseball Hall of Fame is a powerful economic engine.”
According to Obama, travel and tourism were responsible for $1.5 trillion in economic activity across the country last year. “Think about that — $1.5 trillion supporting nearly 8 million jobs in communities like this one,” the president continued. “And when tourists come from other countries and spend money here, that’s actually considered a type of export ... Nothing says ‘Made in America’ better than the Empire State Building or the Hoover Dam.”
Although the industry’s economic contributions are large, Obama wants them to be larger. Prior to his Cooperstown appearance, therefore, he signed a memorandum instructing members of his administration to develop a plan to reduce wait times for customs processing at the nation’s 15 largest airports.
His administration also released a progress report on its National Travel and Tourism Strategy.
Finally, the president met with a group of 20 travel and tourism CEOs — including the chief executives of Hyatt Hotels Corp., Orbitz Worldwide, Hilton Worldwide, Sabre, Freeman, Marriott International, American Express, and Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, among others — to discuss industry priorities and opportunities, including: reauthorization of Brand USA; the development of airport-specific action plans to improve international visitors’ experience upon arrival; expansion of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to nations such as Brazil and Poland; surface and aviation infrastructure needs; and provisions of the JOLT Act now pending in the House of Representatives.
“The president recognizes that travel is a top performer on many of his economic priorities, like job creation and the U.S. trade balance,” U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow, who attended the meeting, said in a statement. “He invited us in to ask us what we need to be able to do even better. Customs entry reform, Brand USA renewal, infrastructure improvements — we didn’t hold anything back, and he listened intently to everything we had to say.”
Dow called the president’s agenda a “no-brainer.” “If the president wants an elixir for some of his top economic priorities, like job creation and trade balance, he need look no further than supporting travel,” he said. “We knew he got it two years ago when he set a goal of attracting 100 million visitors to the U.S. annually by 2021. In effect, his speech in Cooperstown is part two: We stated our goal, now here’s what we need to do to get there. Almost every proposal he talked about at the Hall of Fame is a no-brainer; making it easier to travel to and within the U.S. will generate enormous economic returns without compromising other priorities, like security, one iota. We thank and congratulate the president for articulating this vision.”