A Publication of WTVP

Call it a mea culpa from the U.S. government. After inadvertently trying to kill the hospitality industry, the White House and Congress are working to repair the damage done earlier this year by the sensationalism and rhetoric that started during President Obama’s campaign.


At the height of debate regarding government “bailout” money that was granted to struggling financial institutions, one of them (AIG) was sharply criticized by then-candidate Obama who called for AIG to return its federal loan and for the termination of company executives who planned what Mr. Obama deemed a posh corporate meeting. What then happened was a political and media maelstrom, as other big companies were “exposed” in similar fashion. In my opinion, and the opinions of others, a few bad apples spoiled the bunch. Indeed, in a recent commentary on CBS Sunday Morning, actor/comedian Ben Stein had this to say:

“What started as a sensible point has now gone crazy. The notion around the nation is that Uncle Sam doesn’t want business meetings at all. By the hundreds and thousands, business meetings and conventions are being cancelled for no good reason. The airline industry is highly affected. The hotel industry is being crushed. Surely President Obama did not mean to create poverty among hotel maids. Look, of course guarding taxpayer money makes sense. But…President Obama can and should make it clear which meetings are sensible and which the taxpayers will not stand for. Let’s get this vital business tool—business meetings—back on its feet…YESTERDAY.”

The U.S. Treasury has just announced that the boards of directors of companies receiving taxpayer assistance must develop company-wide policies for "excessive" expenditures in the areas of meetings, events and incentive travel. This policy must be kept on file with the Treasury Department. A new "pay czar," Kenneth Feinberg, is tasked with enforcing this and other policies that regulate executive compensation. This is a good thing. Too many companies have quashed travel plans for fear of getting rebuked by federal lawmakers.

Meanwhile, the legislative branch is taking up the debate on another important initiative. The Travel Promotion Act would create, for the first time, a public-private partnership to promote travel to the United States, and help us compete with other countries by sending more welcoming messages to our friends around the world. And it will be done at no cost to American taxpayers. That’s because the act also establishes a Travel Promotion Fund whereby private industry contributions (up to $100 million) are matched with a government contribution (up to $100 million). Federal contributions to the fund are financed by a $10 fee paid by foreign travelers from Visa Waiver countries and collected via the Department of Homeland Security’s Electronic Travel Authorization system. (American travelers frequently pay similar fees when traveling to other countries.) All of this would be overseen by a not-for-profit corporation governed by an 11-member board of directors who would be appointed by the Secretary of Commerce. This is the closest thing yet to a national “convention and visitors bureau”—something the U.S. currently lacks but desperately needs. (But I’ll leave that for another column.)

This, too, is a good thing. Peoria would realize a direct benefit from increased international travel. Granted, while this area itself is not a hotspot destination for travelers from abroad, Chicago is. And the more people visiting Illinois, the more money the Illinois Bureau of Tourism has available to share with its CVB partners all over the state, including Peoria. iBi