Destination Capitol Hill 2023

Last month, Destination Capitol Hill was held in Washington DC, sponsored by the US Travel Association. This multi-day event involves educating both travel professionals on how to make their voices heard, and then a full day of meetings with congressional staff on Capitol Hill on issues important to US travel.

Member Kitt Garrett filed the following report:

U.S. Travel created four topics for talking points to bring to the attention of our own representatives in Congress to move the U.S. into a more competitive world place in tourism. Attendees’ purpose is to bring individual stories to the representatives describing the importance of these issues on a personal basis and how it affects their own economies.

Meeting Issues:
There were four specific asks for our congressional representatives to understand and support legislation and funding which included: 1. Fully Fund the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Travel and Tourism, 2. Lower Visitor Visa Wait Times, 3. Provide H-2B Cap Relief, and 4. Advance FAA Reauthorization Priorities.

Meeting Details:
Location: Grand Hyatt Hotel, 1000 H Street in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023
4:00 PM – 5:30 PM General Meeting Session
5:30 PM – 7:30 PM cocktail reception at the hotel allowing for networking opportunities.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023
7:30 AM Breakfast
8:00 AM Briefing to review asks and answer questions
9:15 AM Photo op at the Capitol
10:30 AM – 5:30 PM NY Team appointments with legislators

Each state which had sent representatives was assigned to a team. The New York State Team represented Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Ithaca, Long Island, NYC and included a representative from Washington, D.C. to represent the American Gaming Association of Washington, D.C. Matt Baker and Kitt Garrett represented the Guides Association of New York City.

Kitt spoke about tourism from the DMC perspective of bidding against countries who can accommodate incentive trips because they either have no or less restrictive visa requirements. The net effect is that NYC loses revenue from the airport meet/greet, the signage makers, coach drivers, hotel workers, restaurants, AV/décor, lighting, meeting space, attractions, theater and how it affects NYC’s ambassadors, licensed NYC tourist guides.

Matt Baker spoke about the student groups he works with reducing their booking time from an average of 6 months down to perhaps a week. The shortened time is a result of both a reaction to a possible health scare and losing their deposits to waiting up to 700 days for their visas to be approved as happens in India.

Talking Points:
1. Fully Fund the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Travel and Tourism,
In the FY2024 appropriations for the Commerce Department, set aside $3.5 million to fund the office of the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Travel and Tourism.

The Assistant Secretary of Travel and Tourism position within the Department of Commerce was established last year after the passage of the bipartisan Visit America Act. Specifically, the Assistant Secretary will be tasked with developing and implementing a national strategy to expand the travel economy, streamlining government processes affecting both business and leisure travel, and helping U.S. cities and counties compete for large international meetings and events.

2. Lower Visitor Visa Wait Times
• SENATE: Please contact Senator Klobuchar’s office to join legislation that would (1) set a 21-day average goal for visa wait times, (2) codify existing authority to waive in-person interviews for lowrisk visa renewals and (3) provide additional resources to consulates with high wait times. • HOUSE: Please work with U.S. Travel Association to draft legislation that would (1) set a 21-day average goal for visa wait times, (2) codify existing authority to waive in-person interviews for lowrisk visa renewals and (3) provide additional resources to consulates with high wait times.

Of the top 10 markets which want to come to the U.S., the long wait times for visas limits their ability to visit.

3. Provide H-2b Cap Relief
• Exempt returning workers from the H-2B cap: Ask House and Senate Appropriators to continue including this provision in funding legislation. • Contact U.S. Travel Association to work on legislation that: • Increases the current cap on H-2B visas from 66,000 to 150,000; and • Establishes a cap exemption formula for employers that previously participated in the program over the past five years and remained in good standing over those years.

There are currently 1.5 million open jobs in the travel industry. Many of these jobs are part time which Americans who live in these specific locations do not take since they need full time jobs. The part time jobs have been filled by migrants who use the H-2b visa to come to the U.S. to work in agriculture and tourism. By increasing the number of visas, more people can run their businesses more effectively.

4. Advance FAA Reauthorization Priorities.
Provide at least $50 million per year for aviation workforce development programs, which would help increase the supply of qualified pilots and mechanics. • Direct the FAA to update their staffing models for air traffic control to account for projected growth in air traffic demand, while also ensuring the agency has enough funding to hire needed air traffic controllers to help prevent delays and cancelations. • Provide at least $4 billion per year in Airport Improvement Program Grants and enable medium and large-hub airports, which have the largest infrastructure needs, to keep more of their grant funding. • Extend the Sustainable Aviation Fuel tax credit through 2032.

Due to the lack of pilots and mechanics, more and more flights are being cancelled, even though they are fully booked. This means more demand and less supply driving the cost of flights higher and therefore will limit the money guests will spend in the location.

Soapbox company manages the appointment schedule, the attendee list, provides documents, a map of the Congressional office buildings, Congress Bios & Info, and help with social media through their own website so the information is consistently uploaded as schedule changes occur and can send messages to the attendees in real time.

Overall, the conference is well worth attending to understand the big picture about the status of the issues regarding tourism in the U.S. Having representatives understand the issues which the attendees face on a day-to-day basis, range from receiving new information to reinforcement of issues which they have heard from multiple organizations and companies who are facing the same issues. GANYC was the only guides association represented, providing new, current, and personal information to the representatives who work directly with the guests rather than through a company executive.

What will happen next:
1. The funding for the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Travel and Tourism has been set aside, however, the budget discussions are on-going and hopefully, will stay in the budget.
2. Decreasing wait times for visa applications is a budget issue. Will there be enough money to hire people in the locations who will process the visas, and how long would it take to bring the U.S. technology up to being able to process visas in an hour, which some countries already provide. This applies to student groups, corporate incentive programs, and individuals who wish to come to visit family, attend their own children’s graduations, or just tour the U.S.
3. The H2-B issue is very controversial and very partisan with Republicans wishing to secure the border before any discussion about lifting the visa numbers.
4. The FAA desperately needs more pilots and mechanics to run more flights. Hopefully,
this issue can remain bi-partisan and be funded.

And member Matthew Baker also attended, and provided the following info at our June meeting: