The following is Senator John Thune's weekly column.
Washington, DC (KELO AM) - Our state slogan, “Great Faces, Great Places,” has helped make South Dakota a household name for vacationers around the world. The South Dakota Department of Tourism does a great job marketing South Dakota’s numerous iconic and historic sites, such as Mount Rushmore and the Corn Palace, to people throughout the country, encouraging them to make South Dakota their vacation destination. While the state invests significant time and energy into drawing visitors to South Dakota, reaching international visitors is an expensive and difficult task that is sometimes challenging to do with tight budgets and limited resources.
To help promote the United States to visitors abroad, Congress developed a public-private partnership in 2011 called Brand USA, which is funded through private contributions from the US travel industry and matched up to $100 million through fees assessed on foreign travelers. South Dakota’s own Secretary of the Department of Tourism, Jim Hagen, has been heavily involved with Brand USA, promoting South Dakota and the country to international visitors. According to Secretary Hagan, in just four short years Brand USA's marketing efforts significantly increased inbound international travel to the United States, stimulating new spending, creating jobs, helping strengthen our economy, and doing so at no cost to taxpayers. The cooperative marketing opportunities Brand USA offers rural states allows the state Department of Tourism to inspire international visitors to come to South Dakota.
As our state’s second largest industry, tourism is critical to South Dakota’s economy, with domestic and foreign visitors greatly contributing to our state and local tax bases. In 2013, South Dakota saw nearly $2 billion in economic impact from tourism-related activities and collected $298 million in local tax revenue.
On July 23rd, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, on which I serve as Ranking Member, approved the Travel Promotion, Enhancement, and Modernization Act of 2014 (S. 2250) to reauthorize Brand USA through Fiscal Year 2020. The bill includes a number of improvements, which I secured, to strengthen Brand USA and ensure additional transparency and accountability to its operations. The House of Representatives passed the companion bill (H.R. 4450) on July 22nd in a strong bipartisan vote.
Brand USA is important to attracting tourists from around the world to visit some our nation’s most historic and recognizable sites, including those in South Dakota. That’s why I worked with Secretary Hagen and my colleagues in the Senate to secure improvements to the bill, clearing a path for this job-creating legislation by the full Senate in the future. I recognize the importance of attracting visitors to South Dakota’s economy and will continue working with my colleagues to reauthorize Brand USA.