But as global travel and tourism has boomed to historic levels, tourism industry officials said the U.S. share of those visitors has shrunk by almost a third in the past decade. That’s partly because of increased U.S. security after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but industry analysts say it’s also because China, Turkey and other nations have become huge tourist magnets.
So the United States is now doing what once seemed profoundly unnecessary: shelling out millions of dollars to promote America as an international travel destination. It’s an investment, U.S. officials said, in growing the economy and creating jobs in hotels, restaurants, stores and anywhere else where tourists spend money.
“The more folks who visit America, the more Americans we get back to work,” President Obama said last year in announcing an executive order designed to increase visitors by marketing America abroad and cutting red tape for tourists seeking visas.
The Obama administration, in partnership with the travel and tourism industry, is spending $150 million this year on its promotional effort. Part of it is a “Discover America” campaign that includes television commercials in nine nations, ads on the Tokyo subway, banners in London and Vancouver, Facebook pages in Portuguese and German, and Tweets about the charms of the Dakotas.
U.S. officials also have added to staff and offices in China and Brazil to speed the visa process for millions of new visitors.
Some Republican members of Congress have criticized Brand USA, the partnership between the federal government and the travel industry that is coordinating the effort, as a waste of taxpayer dollars that benefits mainly wealthy companies in the travel business. But supporters say that promoting tourism benefits the U.S. economy as a whole.
“Travel and tourism is the quickest way back to economic development and jobs,” said Christopher L. Thompson, chief executive of Brand USA. “9/11 changed the world and changed the way people look at us, so we had to up our game.”
Record numbers of tourists are coming to America; last year more than 66 million came, and they spent more than $168 billion here, according to the Commerce Department. But tourism officials said those statistics mask the fact that growth in tourism to the United States has not kept pace with growth in global tourism.
Officials at the U.S. Travel Association, a private industry group, said that a more revealing look at the state of U.S. tourism comes when visitors from Canada and Mexico are removed from the statistics. That leaves “long-haul” tourists, those who travel from one world region to another — say, Europe to Asia or the United States. Those tourists are the most sought-after: They tend to invest more to get here and spend more when they arrive, so they are widely considered a better indicator of the strength of the U.S. market.