Representatives from the U.S. travel industry urged a Senate panel Tuesday to pass bipartisan legislation to help the industry, over a year after it was ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chirag Shah, senior vice president of federal affairs for the American Hotel and Lodging Association, told lawmakers of the significant economic issues still facing his industry as a result of the pandemic.
“Hotels have suffered unprecedented devastation over the past eighteen months, with business declines not only worse than those seen in the Great Recession, but worse than the Great Depression,” Mr. Shah testified. “The impacts on hotel revenues were nine times worse than those we saw after 9/11. Hotels across the country were forced to reduce operations or shutter, leading to a loss of more than 700,000 jobs in 2020.”
The draft Omnibus Travel and Tourism Act, according to the committee, includes measures to “study the impacts of COVID-19 on the travel and tourism industry, elevate travel and tourism matters at the U.S. Department of Commerce, promote travel to the United States, and set visitation goals for international travelers to the United States.”
Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of Public Affairs and Policy for the U.S. Travel Association, told lawmakers that international travel to the U.S. remains severely depressed, due largely to pandemic-related restrictions with Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and several other nations.
She said in 2020, international travel spending in the U.S. declined by 79%, leading to the loss of 1.1 million American jobs.
“For each week that travel restrictions on Canada, the EU, and the UK remain in place, the U.S. economy will lose another $1.5 billion in international visitor spending, which is enough to support 10,000 American jobs,” she testified.
The U.S. travel and tourism industry suffered a $766 billion loss in 2020, reported travelpulse.com, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. World Travel & Tourism Council’s annual economic impact report showed that travel and tourism provided over 16.5 million jobs in 2019, but that number dipped 33.2% to 11.1 million last year.
The hearing comes in the wake of the Biden administration’s Monday announcement that it plans to lift travel restrictions into the U.S. beginning in November. Foreign nationals entering the country must show proof of an approved COVID-19 vaccination, and will not be required to quarantine at their destination when they arrive.
The lifting of the travel restrictions came as welcome news to lawmakers seeking ways to revive the travel and tourism industry.
“The Biden administration’s announcement that the United States will soon begin taking safe, practical steps to lift foreign travel restrictions with proof of vaccination is welcome news, ushering in a policy that will provide a much-needed boost to Nevada’s travel and tourism economy,” said Sen. Jacky Rosen, Nevada Democrat, in a statement.
She encouraged the administration “to proactively increase safe international travel and welcome more visitors from across the globe to our state.”
The Travel Optimization by Updating and Revitalizing Infrastructure to Support Mobilization (TOURISM) Act was previously introduced in June by Ms. Rosen; Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, senior Republican on the Commerce Committee; Senate Travel and Tourism Caucus co-Chair Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat; Subcommittee on Tourism, Trade and Export Promotion ranking member Sen. Rick Scott, Florida Republican; Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, Nevada Democrat; and Senate Travel and Tourism Caucus co-Chair Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican.