Senate Kills House Plan to Defund Brand USA

A plan to strip Brand USA of its funding has failed thanks to Democrats in the U.S. Senate, who announced last week that the Senate for the third consecutive year would not be voting on or passing a budget in 2012.

"We already have a budget in place for this year and next," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). "The Budget Control Act passed last summer provided the spending limits and enforcement measures for the budget for 2012 and 2013. It is the law of the land."

The move is a direct response to a budget plan passed last month by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the plan as written would cut federal spending by $5.3 trillion over the next decade, compared to President Barack Obama's proposed budget.

Although the bill itself does not specify where cuts should come from — instead, it leaves spending decisions to individual House committees — it does include several recommendations for achieving budget goals. Among the suggestions: Eliminate Brand USA, which was created in 2010 as America's first-ever global consumer travel brand.

"In 2010, the Congress established a new annual payment to the travel industry and created a new government agency, the Corporation for Travel Promotion (now called Brand USA), to conduct advertising campaigns encouraging foreign travelers to visit the United States," reads a report on the Ryan plan from the House Budget Committee. "This budget recommends ending these subsidies and eliminating the new agency because it is not a core responsibility of the federal government to pay for and conduct advertising campaigns for a certain industry. Moreover, the travel industry can and should pay for the advertising that it benefits from."

A public-private partnership, Brand USA is part of the Travel Promotion Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in March 2010. It was officially launched as the Corporation for Travel Promotion in September 2010 and funds up to 50 percent of the country's promotion activities, allowing the United States to advertise itself for the first time as a tourist destination to travelers in foreign countries. As the governing body in charge of spending the country's travel promotion dollars — which are secured through private donations and matching public funds, collected through a $10 fee on select foreign travelers under the nation's Visa Waiver Program — Brand USA is tasked with creating advertisements and marketing messages for overseas travelers, the first of which will debut next month.

NTA — formerly known as the National Tour Association — was the first in the travel industry to formally speak out against the Ryan plan.

"Losing Brand USA would be a blow to U.S. inbound marketing efforts that are important to creating jobs, boosting the national economy and helping all of our members who benefit from overseas visitors," NTA President Lisa Simon said in a statement released early this month. "NTA shares the goals of Brand USA and fully supports the organization."

Although the Senate has declined to vote on a budget, NTA said "any change in control of the Senate and the White House as a result of the November election would set up a scenario where the bill could become law in 2013."

"NTA will work with other travel sector organizations, including [the] U.S. Travel Association, to educate the representatives who voted for this budget," Simon continued. "Many of them were co-sponsors of the bill that created Brand USA: the Travel Promotion Act of 2010. This is a good time to re-emphasize the importance of tourism so the elimination of Brand USA will not be part of future versions of the budget."