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Another Voice: Brand USA program drives gains to U.S. economy

By Jerry Jacobs Jr.

As a border city to one of our nation’s largest trading partners, we Buffalonians have long appreciated the obvious: travel means business, which means jobs. In fact, the travel industry supports a staggering 15.7 million jobs in our country.

In 2018, 80 million international travelers visited the United States and spent $256 billion on travel-related U.S. goods and services such as hotel stays, restaurant meals and airfare. We welcome them to Buffalo, where the skyline is dotted with new commercial developments and our airport is undergoing a massive renovation.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Rep. Brian Higgins acknowledged that shortages in northern border staffing impact the level and volume of cross-border traffic, which in turn hampers international travel-related economic benefits. As a proud Buffalo-based, global hospitality company with more than 100 years in the business, Delaware North is keenly sensitive to the health of our inbound international travel.

Our company is a member of the U.S. Travel Association, a nonprofit organization that is advocating for Congress to renew Brand USA, a public-private effort that markets and promotes U.S. tourism abroad. Brand USA is funded by an international travelers’ fee that is matched by the tourism industry, meaning no additional cost to taxpayers. The highly successful program will expire in 2020, but bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate to keep it going.

A recent study by Oxford Economics demonstrated that Brand USA efforts support 52,000 incremental jobs each year. In fiscal year 2018 alone, the program drove 1.13 million incremental international visitors to the U.S., who generated $1.2 billion in federal, state and local taxes and $8.9 billion in total economic impact.

Now is not the time to take our foot off the gas. The U.S. Travel Association estimates that our national market share in international tourism is fading. Likely for many reasons beyond the tourism industry’s control, we are attracting an increasingly smaller percentage of the growing worldwide number of international travelers, slipping from 13.7% to 11.7% from 2015 to 2018. Future uncertainties in the global economy could depress those numbers further.

The U.S. Travel Association calculates that the travel industry drives a $70 billion trade surplus for the country. We intuitively think of trade in terms of materials exported overseas, but we do not pay enough attention to the amount of American goods and services sold to international travelers spending time on U.S. soil.

I encourage you to call your elected representatives and ask them to renew Brand USA.

Jerry Jacobs Jr. is co-chief executive officer of Delaware North.

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