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Growing Our Economy Through Travel and Tourism

Valerie Jarrett discusses the importance of growing the economy through travel and tourism to speed up our short-term recovery, and ensure our long-term prosperity.

This week, I travelled with the President to two European countries. As always, this trip was a reminder that travel can broaden our horizons and reinforce longstanding friendships. Just as importantly, travel and tourism are key engines of economic growth.  

Last Wednesday, I joined several members of the Obama Administration, including Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, at the annual Global Travel and Tourism Summit in Las Vegas.  I was delighted to deliver the keynote address at a session entitled “The New Global Mindset,” and I participated in a question and answer discussion with many industry leaders

The travel and tourism industry was hit hard during the recession, so I’m happy to report that we’re seeing signs of solid improvement.  In 2010, business travel was up by 16 percent, and 60 million foreign visitors entered the United States.  That’s more than the populations of Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania combined.

These positive numbers show that that travel and tourism are contributing to our overall economic recovery.  When more people travel worldwide, it means more business for American companies and more jobs for American workers.

When foreign visitors travel to – and spend money in – the U.S., it is a type of direct export. In fact, according to the Commerce Department, this market accounted for more than $134 billion, last year alone. That makes it our largest services-sector export.

In 2010, the United States ran a record $31.7 billion trade surplus in travel and tourism, and we want that surplus to continue to grow. That’s why the Obama Administration is taking concrete steps today, to attract visitors who will come here tomorrow.  We are working with the President’s Export Council, the Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, and the newly-established Corporation for Travel Promotion. Under Secretary LaHood’s leadership, we’re investing in roadways, railways, and runways.  We are taking new steps to make air travel more convenient, and respectful of passengers’ rights, while keeping it as safe as ever.

We’re also taking steps to streamline our nation’s visa system.  We’re proud of the fact that at more than 73 percent of overseas posts, visa appointment wait times are less than seven days, and that in 2010, the number of visas issued was up by 8 percent.  And at the same time, we’re going to work hard to do even better in the months and years ahead.  

Many signs point to our economic recovery picking up steam: the private sector has created over 2 million jobs over the last 14 months, and over 750,000 jobs in the last three months alone.  President Obama believes that as we continue to grow our economy and create jobs, we must work together with the private sector to Win the Future.  Through programs such as Startup America, the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, or the National Export Initiative, the Obama Administration is partnering with America’s businesses to speed up our short-term recovery, and ensure our long-term prosperity.

Valerie Jarrett is Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement.