The federal government spending package for Fiscal Year 2023 passed by Congress ahead of the Christmas holiday includes creation of the first Cabinet-level agency representative for the travel and tourism industry.
The Omnibus Travel and Tourism Act, which was wrapped into the overall omnibus spending bill that covers government spending through September 30, 2023, authorizes the position of Assistant Secretary for Travel and Tourism in the Department of Commerce.
President Joe Biden on Thursday signed into law the $1.3 trillion spending bill, H.R. 2617, after it was passed by the House and Senate last week.
Advocates for U.S. travel and tourism have been lobbying for the last three decades for a representative at the highest level of government for the $1.1 trillion industry.
“Thanks to a bipartisan and bicameral group of congressional leaders, the United States will now join all G20 countries with a senior federal official focused on travel,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman.
“The assistant secretary will play an important role as we partner with government to lower visitor visa wait times, modernize security screening and leverage new technologies to make travel more seamless and secure,” Freeman said.
A possible nominee for the position by President Joe Biden has yet to surface, and the nomination will be subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, travel advisors had a front-row seat to the scattered nature of federal oversight of the travel industry,” said American Society of Travel Advisors Executive Vice President for Advocacy Eben Peck.
“Contending with numerous federal agencies and ever-changing, and sometimes conflicting, rules regarding travel while struggling to keep their businesses alive put unnecessary and avoidable hardships on travel advisors,” Peck said.
More than 225 travel advisors and suppliers representing the ASTA descended on Washington to lobby for passage of the Omnibus Travel and Tourism Act and share stories on how their businesses were impacted during the pandemic.
“Their hard work paid off, as the legislation tripled its cosponsors in the week following ASTA’s Legislative Day. Since that time, ASTA and its members have continued to push for inclusion in any year-end legislative vehicle,” Peck said.
“Creating a high-level leadership position within the federal government focused on travel industry concerns, as this legislation does, would protect the industry from unnecessary setbacks due to conflicting and confusing policy decisions in the future,” Peck said.
On September 29, the House passed the Visit America Act, H.R. 6965, to safeguard the travel industry should another pandemic occur. The Senate version, S. 1947, was incorporated into the Omnibus Travel and Tourism Act, S. 3375, which advanced out of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in December 2021.
Summary of provisions of the Omnibus Travel and Tourism Act:
- Establish an Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Travel andTourism in the Department of Commerce. The Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Travel and Tourism would support and enhance domestic travel and tourism by, among other responsibilities, creating goals for international visitation and travel and tourism exports.
- Establish the United States Travel and Tourism Advisory Board with membership comprised of representatives from companies and organizations in the travel and tourism industry who would be appointed for two-year terms and would advise the Secretary of Commerce on travel and tourism industry-related matters.
- Direct the Secretary of Commerce, in consultation with the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, the Tourism Policy Council, and the Secretary of Homeland Security, to submit to Congress a 10-year travel and tourism strategy, not less frequently than once every 10 years.
- Direct the Secretary of Commerce to study the effects of the pandemic on the travel and tourism industry and submit a report on the final study to Congress.
- Establish the Joint Task Force on Air Travel During and After the COVID–19 Public Health Emergency, which would develop recommended requirements, plans, and guidelines to address issues relating to air travel and airport operations during and after the COVID–19 public health emergency and report its recommendations to Congress.
- Direct the Secretary of Transportation to establish a Joint Federal Advisory Committee to develop policy recommendations for the Joint Task Force on Air Travel During and After the Covid–19 Public Health Emergency to consider in developing its recommendations.
- Direct the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration to conduct a study of the feasibility of using canines to detect the virus that causes COVID–19; and if it is feasible, whether and how airports can use canines to screen passengers, aircraft crew members, and other individuals who pass through airports.
- Authorize the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, in coordination with the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to conduct a 6-year pilot program, at up to six foreign last point of departure (LPD) airports, where passengers departing those airports could continue on additional flights or flight segments originating in the United States without additional security rescreening if their initial screening at the LPD airport was conducted in accordance with an aviation screening agreement and if other security requirements are met.