by Sarah Schmidt
August 12, 2009
MEREDITH — Democratic Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Amy Klobuchar came to Meredith this week to promote the Travel Promotion Act, a bill they said would develop programs aimed at increasing international tourism in the United States.
Shaheen said that the Travel Promotion Act would create a public-private partnership to promote tourism in the United States, especially among international travelers. The Act establishes the Corporation for Travel Promotion, a non-profit corporation, governed by an 11-member board of directors appointed by the Secretary of Commerce. The Act would also create an Office of Travel Promotion to create programs to increase the number of international visitors. Klobuchar, a Senator from Minnesota, oversees the Senate Subcommittee responsible for tourism.
Since tourism is New Hampshire’s second-biggest industry, employing 67,000 people, Shaheen said that the Act was important to the state’s future. After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, she said the country had seen a marked decrease in the number of international tourists coming to the United States. The state collects $212 million in rooms and meals taxes every year, and about $132 million of that amount comes from out-of-state visitors.
“I remember being surprised that there was no promotion, that we never had anyone to do international marketing,” said Shaheen. “International tourists stay longer, spend more than the (domestic) tourist, and go back to their home country with a positive view of the United States. We will see help for all 50 states as part of the bill.”
Klobuchar said that part of the bill would deal with making it easier to get visas done sooner, “so that they don’t go to France instead.” She noted that she had been surprised to learn that New Hampshire marketed to Canadian visitors.
Shaheen said that there would be an assessment of $10 per visa, with a cap of $100 million, and that Canadians would be exempt from this increase. Klobuchar said that with an increase in fees for the visas, the offices that issued them could afford to hire more staff, shortening the wait time for visa approval.
If the act was not signed into law, Klobuchar said she believed the country would lose another 27,000 tourism-related jobs in the next year. The Act, she said, is the first bill slotted to go on the Senate floor in the next legislative session, and has already been passed by the House.
“For the first time, we’d be promoting our country internationally, like France,” said Klobuchar. “People are booking later, not planning ahead like they used to.”
Both senators encouraged members of the public and some of the local tourism leaders in attendance to contact local legislators and ask them to support the bill. Shaheen said that President Barack Obama was willing to sign the bill when it is slated to come up in September. While she noted that a number of the bill’s original sponsors did not vote for it in the end, she attributed their actions to amendments that other legislators were attempting to tack onto it.
Lori Harnois of the International Marketing Office in the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism, Amy Landers, Lakes Region Association Executive Director, and Jim Morash of the M/S Mount Washington and board director of the LRA, all spoke in support of the bill.
“As a captain and co-owner of the M/S Mount Washington, I’ve learned how important tourism is to the area,” said Morash. “I also thank the senators for their support of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which allowed us to invest in clean diesel technology, allowing us to replace the engines for the first time since 1946.”