Clock Ticks on Filling New Top U.S. Tourism Job as Election Season Looms

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The U.S. travel industry may be forced to wait until after the 2024 Presidential Election to see if the assistant secretary of travel and tourism position gets filled and funded again.

The clock is ticking to fill the assistant secretary of commerce for travel and tourism position before its allocated funding becomes unavailable after September 30, the end of the federal government’s 2024 fiscal year.

President Joe Biden would have to nominate someone to the position and the U.S. Senate would have to confirm him or her. Conversations to fill the position are currently “ongoing,” said a U.S. Travel Association spokesperson.

Given its level in the government, there likely won’t be a shortage of candidates who want the job. “Because it’s at a higher level, I think you’ll get a greater amount of interest,” said Chris Thompson, CEO and president of Brand USA, America’s destination marketing organization.

“It’ll be interesting to see what kind of people they’re putting in there and where they come from, what background they bring,” said Thompson.

Why the Tourism Secretary Matters

The federal government has a deputy assistant secretary for travel and tourism and other officials dedicated to supporting the travel and tourism industry, but none that can be as creative with policymaking as the assistant secretary might.

“A lot of the work that gets done is with the career folks, but what you need to actually either bring on new policy or shape policy in different ways is the muscle brought by appointed people that are coming with any given administration,” said Thompson.

Some of the assistant secretary responsibilities include setting annual visitation goals, developing national travel strategies and establishing federal interagency coordination.

Music Industry Lobbies for Change

While the secretary job sits empty, the music industry has been trying to carve out a new responsibility in the role. On April 30, U.S. Senators John Hickenlooper (D-CO) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced the American Music Tourism Act to the Senate to amend the position.

Under proposed legislation, the assistant secretary will have an extra responsibility of implementing a plan to increase domestic and international tourism to music venues.

The legislation has backing from the Colorado Creative Industries of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, the Recording Industry Association of America, Live Nation Entertainment, the National Independent Venues Association and over ten other music trade groups.

Long Journey

The assistant secretary of commerce for travel and tourism was created in December 2022 under the Omnibus Travel and Tourism Act. The position is the most senior U.S. government official with a job revolving around travel and tourism. It’s one level below being a cabinet secretary and sits within the Department of Commerce.

For over 20 years, the travel industry has been lobbying for higher-level representation in the federal government.

In early March, Congress passed and U.S. President Joe Biden signed legislation that included up to $3.5 million in appropriations to the office for the 2024 fiscal year. Congressional appropriations don’t automatically roll over to the next year.

The delay in securing funding for the office slowed down the staffing process. At a U.S. Senate hearing in June 2023, National Travel and Tourism Office Director Brian Beall said the Department of Commerce had requested $3.5 million to establish and staff the office in its 2024 budget and had been waiting for approval of the funds to proceed.

In late March, hundreds of travel industry professionals lobbied federal lawmakers to fund the position for the 2025 fiscal year as part of the U.S. Travel Association’s Destination Capitol Hill Conference.

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