Travel is key to economic recovery, says U.S. Chamber of Commerce exec

U.S. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Thomas J. Donohue today called on travel industry executives to fight to protect the United States’ travel and tourism business.

In his keynote speech to the U.S. Travel Association’s International Pow Wow convention in Orlando, Florida, Donohue said the travel industry has been the victim of “foolish attacks,” and it’s time to fight back.

“Congress and federal agencies can help advance the cause of travel and tourism, or they can help undermine it,” Donohue said.

Donohue noted that in the United States, the travel industry is the source of more than 7 million jobs, but nearly 500,000 travel industry jobs have been lost in the current economic recession.

The country is making a mistake by increasing the “hassle factor” for foreign visitors, Donohue said. He called on the U.S. Customs Service to reduce wait times to enter the country to 30 minutes or less:

“While security must always be our very top priority, that doesn’t mean we can’t also become a world leader in customer service.”

Also undermining the cause? Tax increases on tourism, such as the dozens of hotel bed tax increases passed by municipalities last year.

Because the taxes are paid by visitors who vote somewhere else, Donohue said, “it’s tempting for governments to view travel and tourism as a cash cow they can milk again and again.”

Besides raising tourism taxes, some politicians have recently blasted spending on business travel, a move Donohue calls “cheap rhetoric.” He says business travel is responsible for $240 billion in spending, and that is good for the U.S. economy.

“These attacks hurt real people in real communities across the country,” Donohue said. “They don’t help create one single job or put one single person back to work.”