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Senators from both parties want to create a position to oversee US tourism to help the travel industry recover after the pandemic.
“Our tourism sector—given how important it is to the economy of the US—really doesn’t have a strong singular voice,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said at a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, adding that the US is the only country in the Group of 20 rich and developing nations without a high-ranking tourism official.
The idea of an assistant secretary in the Commerce Department to oversee the tourism industry was first introduced in June 2021 as part of S. 1947. Sullivan, as well as Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), the chair of the Tourism, Trade, and Export Promotion subcommittee, and its ranking member Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), all expressed support for appointing the position during the hearing.
“We really need someone who wakes up every day and thinks about a national strategy because tourism is a top economic driver,” Rosen said.
Sullivan said having a person dedicated to tourism will help streamline proposed strategies to help revive the tourism industry after the coronavirus pandemic halted most travel.
Rosen and Scott said after the hearing they hope to speed up the vote on the floor. Rosen said she discussed with Scott bringing the matter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
“I’m hoping that we’ll get that on the hotline or on the floors soon,” Rosen said.
Grant Harris, a witness at the hearing, serves as assistant secretary of commerce for industry and analysis at Commerce’s International Trade Administration. He overlooks the tourism sector alongside other areas, such as trade and manufacturing, Sullivan said.
“If you look at his responsibilities, he’s got a huge portfolio,” Sullivan said. “And tourism is on the bottom.”
Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, said other agencies, such as the Department of Transportation, should also consider adding a tourism-focused position. Discover Puerto Rico is a public-private entity that promotes travel to the island.
“Every major federal agency should have a top level, highly placed individual that is there to make certain that the travel and tourism industry and the federal government are closely aligned,” Dean said.
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