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Promotion act will benefit Wichita

What a great day for the travel industry in America. Last week the U.S. Senate passed the new Travel Promotion Act and sent it to President Obama for his signature. At a time when there is so much divisive rhetoric in Washington, D.C., congressional leaders from both parties and the president have overwhelmingly shown they recognize the value of travel and leveraging its strength to improve our economy and image around the world.

The new law establishes a public-private partnership to create the first-ever U.S. promotion program aimed at travelers around the world. This commonsense, tax-free stimulus plan will reduce our federal budget deficit by $425 million over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Closer to home, it also means more jobs for our community.

International visitors have a significant impact on the Wichita economy. They visit Wichita attractions such as Old Cowtown Museum, Exploration Place and the Kansas Aviation Museum. They listen to the music of the Diamond W Wranglers. They buy airplanes from Bombardier Learjet, Cessna Aircraft Co. and Hawker Beechcraft. Delegates from our sister cities and delegations hosted by the Kansas World Trade Center learn about Wichita's business capability through their visits.

As a tourism destination, Wichita stands to benefit tremendously as we compete with other countries to attract international travelers. British and German visitors already are aware of the authentic, welcoming experience that is available by visiting Wichita and Kansas. This new marketing effort will teach the rest of the world about the breadth of our country, introducing international travelers to new destinations in America's heartland, as repeat visitors seek more authentic American experiences.

The average overseas visitor spends in excess of $4,000 when he visits the United States. The firm Oxford Economics estimates that a well-executed promotion program will attract 1.6 million new international visitors to the United States annually and create $4 billion in new spending. Other nations including the United Kingdom, France and especially Mexico and Greece — which each spent $150 million on promotions to attract international travelers in 2005 — have long recognized the importance of these valuable travelers.

These international visitors will stay in Wichita hotels, eat in our restaurants and visit our attractions. They also will shop in our retail stores and do business with Wichita-based companies. The dollars that visitors spend are transformed into paychecks used to pay rent and buy food and clothing for families.

The United States welcomed 2.4 million fewer overseas travelers in 2009 than in 2000 — remaining below pre-Sept. 11 levels of overseas visitors for the ninth consecutive year. That was despite a weak dollar, which made the United States a travel bargain, and the fact that 46 million more people around the world traveled beyond their borders last year than in 2000.

This program comes along not a moment too soon.

It's going to take several months before this new promotion program is up and running, but Wichita is perfectly positioned to reap great benefits. It's not too soon to put out the welcome mat.

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