Travel, Tourism, and Diplomacy: How "Open Skies" Supports Economic Growth in the United States

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Deputy Assistant Secretary Tom Engle with staff from Department of Homeland Security and Consular Affairs stand in front of a blue table at IPW 2017.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Tom Engle with staff from Department of Homeland Security and Consular Affairs stand ready to assist visitors at IPW 2017.

Travel, Tourism, and Diplomacy: How "Open Skies" Supports Economic Growth in the United States

Washington, D.C. is hosting the annual travel and tourism trade show: the U.S. Travel Association’s IPW on June 3 -7. The IPW is the travel industry’s leading international marketplace, bringing together more than 1,000 U.S. travel destinations and organizations from all over the country, and more than 1,300 international and domestic buyers from over 70 countries around the world. The IPW is where international travel and tourism business happens.

This year, IPW has over 1,100 exhibitors and over 5,000 attendees, including industry buyers and international journalists -- demonstrating how the U.S. values international visitors. International travel and tourism are hugely important to the U.S. economy. Both the number of foreign tourists visiting the United States and the amount of money they spend has steadily increased over recent years. Almost 80 million foreigners visited the United States in 2015, spending over $246 billion, which represents 11 percent of all U.S. exports of goods and services. That international visitor spending supported 1.2 million jobs here in the United States.

The U.S. Department of State has been a regular participant in this annual IPW event. My colleagues and I from the Economic Bureau’s Division of Transportation Affairs, along with colleagues from the Bureau of Consular Affairs and other U.S. government partners, participated in events to explain how U.S. agencies are collaborating to facilitate international travel to the United States in addition to other IPW programs.  

Our work directly supports the global travel and tourism industry by creating more opportunities for growth, travel, and trade. We lead negotiations to enhance commercial opportunities for U.S. air carriers and exports, increasing travel and connectivity with our foreign partners, including through Open Skies reciprocal aviation agreements. 

Open Skies agreements allow airlines to make commercial decisions about routes, capacity, and pricing without government interference. These agreements have vastly expanded international passenger and cargo flights to and from the United States, providing benefits to airlines, airports, shippers and, most importantly, travelers. These agreements mean that airlines can provide more affordable, convenient, and efficient air service to consumers and businesses, promoting increased travel and trade, and spurring high-quality job creation and economic growth in the United States. Open Skies agreements also expand cooperative marketing opportunities between airlines, liberalize charter regulations, improve flexibility for airline operations, and commit governments to high standards of safety and security.

We work closely with a broad range of stakeholders, including industry associations, individual air carriers, organized labor, individual airports, and local communities to advance our Open Skies policy. The United States now has Open Skies agreements with over 120 partners from every region of the world and at every level of economic development. This year, we’re celebrating 25 years of progress in aviation liberalization through our Open Skies policy. 

The State Department, through its embassies and consulates abroad, also supports the Department of Homeland Security’s pre-clearance and pre-inspection operations as a means of enhancing the travel and arrival experience for international travelers. With pre-clearance, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers conduct immigration, customs, and agriculture inspections on U.S.-bound passengers at airports outside of the United States. Both airlines and passengers benefit from enhanced security and travel facilitation. Improving the passenger experience and responding to the service goals of air carriers are central to pre-clearance’s success. Additionally, air travelers benefit from the increased security and more streamlined processing that pre-clearance provides.

The United States is a culturally rich and diverse country, whose citizens can trace their heritage to almost every country in the world. No other nation can compete with the diversity of experiences visitors find across the United States and its territories, with its public lands, waters, and iconic cultural and historical sites. Americans are proud of our country and eager to share all that it has to offer with visitors from around the globe. The U.S. government’s various efforts to enable and enhance travel to, from, and within the United States support the warm welcome Americans extend to our international visitors each day.

About the Author: Thomas Engle serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Affairs in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. 

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