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U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, second from right, DFL-Minn., and others attend the signing Thursday by President Barack Obama of the Travel Promotion Act, which is to boost international tourism to the United States. Klobuchar is chairman of the subcommittee that first heard the bill, of which she is a co-sponsor. White House Photo

President Obama signs tourism bill

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President Barack Obama signed into law Thursday a bill designed to boost international travel to the United States, something sourly lagging since 9/11.

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The Travel Promotion Act moved through Congress with bipartisan support, said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the U.S. tourism industry.

She was at the White House on Thursday for the bill signing in the Oval Office.

"Tourism is a powerful engine for job creation both in Minnesota and nationally," said Klobuchar in a statement. "By enacting the Travel Promotion Act, we will attract visitors from abroad, create jobs, and stimulate economic growth, with no cost to taxpayers."

Klobuchar cosponsored the legislation that will promote America as a tourist attraction and help the U.S. compete with other countries' tourism promotion efforts. The act will help attract an estimated 1.6 million new international visitors and add $4 billion to the U.S. economy each year.

The program will be paid by a $10 fee on visas to enter the United States. Canadian visitors, however, will be exempt.

In remarks, Obama congratulated lawmakers who gathered in the Oval Office, saying they had worked hard for a long time for the bill.

"Obviously, all of us believe that America is the best place to travel," he said. "It attracts millions of visitors every year, but we can attract more. Our ability to highlight the incredible bounty of this country, the spectacular sights, scenery, people is something we should all be encouraging.

"That's what this bill does," the president said.

The bill, authored by U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., would create a nationally coordinated travel promotion campaign through a private-public partnership that seeks to reverse the slide in tourism in the United States since 9/11.

There are 2.4 million fewer visitors to the United States last year than came in 2000, Dorgan said last week. "After the terrorist attacks, our country ... was sending messages that it will be harder to come to America. It's going to be harder to get a visa, and a lot of people around the world felt that they weren't welcome here."

Other countries have picked up the slack by marketing their locations for vacationers, such as Italy or France, he said.

The Travel Promotion Act creates a Corporation for Travel Promotion, an independent, non-profit corporation, to run the travel promotion campaign. The program will be funded by a nominal $10 fee paid by foreign travelers from Visa Waiver Program countries and matching contributions from the travel industry.

Tourism is the fifth-largest industry in Minnesota, generating $11 billion in sales and providing nearly 11 percent of the state's total private sector employment, Klobuchar said.

Nationwide, an analysis by the U.S. Travel Association reveals that programs authorized by the Travel Promotion Act will create nearly 40,000 new American jobs. Additionally, a report by the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill will reduce the budget deficit by $425 million over the next 10 years.

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