Begich Praises President’s Focus on Tourism Industry
Alaskan Appointed to U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board
U.S. Senator Mark Begich today welcomed a proposal by President Obama to boost America’s visitor industry, a critical sector for Alaska’s economy, and the President’s appointment of an Alaska tourism official to an important national visitor industry advisory board.
“I am pleased President Obama recognizes the importance of tourism to the economy,” Begich said following the President’s announcements in Florida. “Travel and tourism is critically important to Alaska, driving more than $2 billion in spending annually and employing in excess of 40,000 people. Any efforts to bolster this industry will be good for the state’s economy and job creation.”
President Obama this morning signed an Executive Order in Orlando, Fl., directing the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior to co-lead an interagency task force promoting domestic and international travel opportunities throughout the United States, with the goal of expanding job creation. This task force will coordinate with the Corporation for Travel Promotion, a non-profit corporation established by Congress through the Travel Promotion Act of 2009 to promote travel to the United States, and the Tourism Policy Council. Begich was an original cosponsor of the Travel Promotion Act.
The Executive Order also directs the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security to improve the processing of international visitors to America. It calls on the departments to increase non-immigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40 percent in 2012, ensuring that 80 percent of non-immigrant visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of receipt of application and increasing efforts to expand the Visa Waiver Program. Brazil and China have been previously plagued by a backlog of visitors who have been unable to obtain timely visa interviews.
The President also announced the appointment of new members to the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board (TTAB), including Alaskan Kirk Hoessle, president and CEO of Alaska Wildland Adventures. Begich recommended Hoessle for the position. With more than 30 years of experience in the visitor industry, he currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Alaska Travel Industry Association. Hoessle has grown his company, Alaska Wildland Adventures based in Girdwood from a small business into a leader in Alaska’s lodge-based adventure travel.
“Kirk is a widely respected leader in the Alaska visitor industry and will be a great addition to the Travel and Tourism Advisory Board,” Begich said. “He will bring a strong Alaska voice to issues of significance to the visitor industry and I applaud Secretary Bryson for appointing him.”
“This is a very exciting challenge and I am looking forward to helping shape the national dialogue on travel and tourism,” Hoessle said. “In particular, I hope to bring a voice for sustainability, wilderness travel and small business. Travel and tourism can and should play a major role in our country’s economic rebound and I feel honored to have a seat at the table to share uniquely Alaskan perspectives.”
The TTAB consists of up to 30 members from a cross section of the travel and tourism industry and serves as the advisory body to the Secretary of Commerce on matters relating to the travel and tourism in the United States. The Board advises the Secretary on government policies and programs that affect the U.S. travel and tourism industry, offers counsel on current and emerging issues, and provides a forum for discussing and proposing solutions to industry-related problems.
Accelerating visa processing times has been a focus of Begich, Co-Chair of the Senate Tourism Caucus. In October, Begich introduced S.1653, the International Tourism Facilitation Act, with his Senate Tourism Caucus Co-Chairs Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Roy Blunt (R-MO).
“I am thrilled the President is committed to the travel and tourism industry and making America a more welcoming place for international visitors,” Begich said. “When overseas visitors can’t get a timely interview for a visa, America loses those visitors to other international destinations. These improvements will go a long way to restoring America’s reputation as the premiere destination for overseas visitors.”
In 2011, Begich founded the Senate Tourism Caucus with Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Roy Blunt (R-MO), and Mark Kirk (R-IL).