Congress Extends Brand USA in Budget Bill; JOLT Act Left Out

HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR
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Washington, DC – The trade show industry chalked up one win and another “incomplete” in the huge federal spending bill passed by Congress on a Saturday night in December.

The $1.1 trillion omnibus spending package tides the government over until the Fall, and also renewed the Brand USA program. But at the same time, the Jobs Originated through Launching Travel (JOLT) Act failed to make the cut and will have to be reintroduced in the new Congress next year.

Still, the exhibition industry was pleased to see the legislative glass half full. “It is not every day that Congress makes a policy move that makes abundant sense and has a demonstrable value for every region of this country,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association (USTA) .

What Congress did was give the green light to Brand USA to continue promoting the U.S. overseas as a tourism and business travel destination. Brand USA was launched three years ago as part of the U.S. Travel Promotion Act, which was aimed at drawing more overseas visitors to the U.S.

Brand USA is a public-private partnership whose members, including the USTA and major convention and visitors bureaus, contribute the entire budget with no taxpayer funds. Dow called the renewal, “a ringing bipartisan endorsement of Brand USA’s mission and effectiveness.”

The JOLT Act was also aimed at drumming up tourism from overseas, but was not included in the omnibus bill. It will have to be reintroduced in the new Congress that convenes in 2015.

A focus of the JOLT Act was reducing the time needed to process of U.S. visa applications, particularly for Chinese business travelers seeking to attend U.S. trade shows. But some members of Congress appeared leery of anything resembling an easing of security at a time when border security and illegal immigration were a high priority.

Some of the urgency for the JOLT Act was reduced this Fall when the U.S. and China agreed to extend the validity of travel visas from one year to 10 years. The move presumably will eliminate the need for repeat travelers to jump through the application hoops and, as a result, speed up the processing of first-time applications.

Reach Roger Dow at (202) 408-8422 or rdow@ustravel.org