Late News—Trump Budget Would Eliminate Brand USA: The Trump Administration’s just-released budget document for the next Fiscal Year (FY 2018, which begins Oct. 1, 2017) calls for the effective elimination of Brand USA. The budget does so by taking funds collected from travelers to the USA from Visa Waiver Program nations who register to travel to the United States through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and are charged a fee to do so. Currently, these funds are turned over by the U.S. Department of Commerce to Brand USA, matching those collected from industry contributions. No longer. Under the Trump budget. They would instead help to support U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which already receives a portion of the funds collected through ESTA.
As soon as the potential elimination of Brand USA became known, U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow issued a statement on the proposed elimination: “With all that’s going on in the world, unilaterally disarming the marketing of the U.S. as a travel destination would be to surrender market share at the worst possible time. It’s especially perplexing that the elimination of Brand USA is on the table when both Commerce Secretary (Wilbur) Ross and OMB Director (Mick) Mulvaney each have supported it previously.
“The creation of Brand USA was a bipartisan effort led by Republicans that passed both chambers by overwhelming majorities. The agency was responsible for adding $8.9 billion to the U.S. economy last year, according to the firm Oxford Economics—a 28-to-1 return on investment. Brand USA isn’t funded with a dime of taxpayer money, reduced the deficit by $50 million, and by the OMB’s own accounting eliminating it would put the federal budget further in the red.”
Other industry leaders, as well as some Congressional supporters of the travel and tourism industry have also issued statements backing Brand USA, which came into being in March 2010 with the signing into law of the Travel Promotion Act and, in late 2014, was reauthorized through 2020.
In reality, the budget document that was just released is mostly a record of the Administration’s priorities. It is likely that, given the amount of funds involved–barely above the level of an asterisk in a $1.1 trillion budget proposal–that senior level officials were hardly aware of any impact on Brand USA. Indeed, both Ross and Mulvaney had previously supported Brand USA.
Congress will do the authorizing and appropriating. And this is where the industry’s principal advocate, US Travel will be discreetly lobbying both Republicans and Democrats to make sure that Brand USA survives, as it did in 2014 when it was able to get the agency reauthorized for five years. So, the early take, based on comments about, and reactions to, the proposal to eliminated Brand USA, is that Congress is likely to overlook the President’s priorities on this particular matter.