Here's some unsolicited advice for any of the candidates running for President this year. When the topic comes around to creating more jobs—and in my mind that should be the signature issue of the entire campaign—a smart candidate will veer the conversation away from foolhardy promises of recreating the nation's once-vast manufacturing base. Instead, he should utter one word as his antidote for our ailing economy: tourism.
All he needs to do to prove the point is to cite the data from the Department of Commerce, as was trumpeted in a recent Office of Travel & Tourism Industries press release. In the third quarter of 2011, travel and tourism-related employment rose by an annual rate of 1.4%. That followed a 2.4% increase in the second quarter. By contrast, total U.S. non-farm employment rose an anemic 0.9% in the third quarter. No one can argue with the impact of those numbers.
So instead of trying to pretend we can lure long-gone manufacturing jobs back home, the next president should mount a full-court press to support the travel industry in any way his administration can, as long as the result is more foreign visitors coming to the U.S. and more jobs created to serve those people of the world who can't wait to come to America to see everything from the Grand Canyon to Disney World to Main Street USA. First on the agenda must be repair of the broken visa system. There are literally tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of middle-class Chinese, Indians, Brazilians and others willing and able to hop on a plane to the U.S., stay a week to 10 days in our hotels, spend thousands of dollars in restaurants, shops and at attractions. They just need a fast, efficient and secure way to apply for and receive visas.
And while the Travel Promotion Act created an infrastructure that allows the federal government to partner with the private sector to market the U.S. as a tourism destination, the country still needs a cabinet-level secretary to make sure the government is doing all that it can to help tourism-related businesses attract and serve an increasing number of foreign tourists.
Promoting additional visitations to the U.S. comes with another benefit beyond economics. The more people who come to America, visit its sites, see its abundance and, most importantly, get to know its people, the more likely they'll return home with a favorable impression of America and its people. Travel and face-to-face interaction may be the most potent peacemaking tool.