Promoting Tourism by Taxing Tourists?

Jena McNeill /

Times Square, New York City

The Senate will soon vote on the Travel Promotion Act of 2009. The Act would create a government-run public relations campaign funded by a tax on international visitors. It is being touted as a way to increase travel to the United States. But the economic downturn has not just hit the United States—worldwide pocket books are feeling the crunch. Adding more money to the price tag of travel to the U.S. will likely just encourage international travelers to take a staycation, or spend their money on a trip to another country.

The U.S. tourism industry has definitely been hurt by the recent economic downturn. And it is a vital U.S. industry that must be supported. In 2008, foreign travelers spent more than $100 billion in the United States. Congress should focus, instead, on streamlining visa procedures and processes in a way that keeps Americans safe, but also encourages more folks to come here. The Visa Waiver Program—which allows foreign travelers from certain countries to come to the U.S. without a visa—is a great way to increase travel to the U.S., while stopping terrorists from ever getting here. Heritage Foundation’s new Backgrounder, A Plan to Build on Success, describes how Visa Waiver meets both economic, public diplomacy, and security goals.

While taxes might put more money in the coffers of the federal government treasury, it won’t do much to help this ailing sector of the economy. It’s time for Congress to do what it needs to do—make travel easier—and leave the rest to the private sector.