What should the government do vs. not do? Where to draw the line is the source of vigorous debate and elections serve to resolve those differences in opinion. However, most Americans, irrespective of their political stripe, accord the federal government the essential duty of protecting its citizens. And, regardless of the disagreement about how to protect them, the appropriateness of this role is indisputable.
The events of September 11, 2001 highlighted this responsibility for many Americans. I was working in the White House at the time and vividly recall the pressure to rethink all of national security, domestic, international affairs and economic policies in terms of a post-9/11 world. Among the most immediate was the need to do a better job of securing our travel system. Enhanced security procedures in airports, heightened scrutiny of visa processing and strengthened travel infrastructure became essential.
Unfortunately, everything comes at a price. These measures made traveling safer--but not easier or cheaper. Both had negative fallout on the travel economy and the global perception of the United States.
The Economics Of Travel
The economics of travel is no small matter. Tourism added nearly $300 billion to the economy in 2000. After 9/11, this value dropped and took years to recover both in sheer dollar terms and relative to the size of the US economy. Many factors contributed to this decline, but the new and (at times) onerous post-9/11 security environment is a prominent one.
Fortunately, there was an opportunity for the government to mitigate the undue burdens on the travel economy while simultaneously repairing the image of the US around the globe through a travel promotion strategy.
A Public-Private Partnership
Historically, federal interest in travel promotion has waxed and waned since 1961. In the post-9/11 environment its heightened importance was recognized and a strategy was authorized after a 5-year hiatus. Enacted in 2010, this travel promotion regime now merits reauthorization.
The policy design is as important as the underlying policy rationale for travel promotion. The US approach is a public-private partnership: Brand USA is a model for the type of federal policy that can be used to appropriately mitigate burdens imposed by other federal policies on certain sectors of the economy. Unlike the travel promotion agencies of many of nations, Brand USA takes no taxpayer funding. Rather, Brand USA has a direct financing mechanism through visa fees paid by foreign visitors and through travel industry stakeholders. The private sector drives the decisions on how best to display America's attractiveness around the globe and to encourage visitors to travel to the US
Protecting Americans at home is a central federal responsibility. But it can be done in a way that balances economic and international affairs interests. The Brand USA initiative rebalances the stress on the travel economy, improves the image of America abroad--and does so in a way that protects the US taxpayer.