Editorial: Inviting the world to visit Philadelphia

Ken Salazar

Last edited 09/05/2019

Philadelphia Inquirer

Most Americans recognize Independence Hall as one of the most famous symbols of Philadelphia, the nation's birth, and the freedom we share as a people. Philadelphians may know it as the top tourist destination in the city, attracting 3.7 million visitors who spend $146 million every year and support more than 2,100 jobs. But we can do more to welcome tourists from across the country and especially around the globe to places like Independence Hall.

President Obama wants America to be the top tourist destination in the world, and Philadelphia's history and culture make it a great place to start. Today I will join Irina Bokova, the director general of the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), at Independence National Historic Park to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention, which recognizes nearly 1,000 sites around the world for their natural or cultural significance. Independence Hall is one of just 21 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in America.

While many Americans may not be aware of the designation, it carries great weight internationally. In Europe and Asia, many families plan their vacations around World Heritage Sites, and communities and businesses develop marketing strategies to take advantage of the prestigious designation.

Unfortunately, even though the United States was the driving force behind the establishment of the convention in 1972, we haven't done enough to market our sites internationally. At Independence Hall, which isn't as well known to foreigners as the Grand Canyon or Yosemite, just 7 percent of the visitors are from other countries.

International tourists tend to stay longer and spend more than their domestic counterparts. In 2010, nearly 60 million foreign visitors pumped more than $134 billion into the U.S. economy, making tourism America's No. 1 service export.

There's no reason we can't make it even bigger, creating more jobs at hotels and resorts, car rental companies, airlines, restaurants, and other businesses. If our economy is going to continue to get stronger, we must tap into every opportunity for growth. And the more people visit America, the more Americans we can get back to work.

In January, the president called for a new national tourism strategy focused on creating jobs by becoming even more welcoming to guests here at home and all over the globe. Secretary of Commerce John Bryson and I are developing a strategy with a special focus on promoting tourism at national parks and other treasures, including wildlife refuges, cultural and historic sites, monuments, and other public lands that may not be well-known internationally.

Across the government, we are also taking steps to make it easier for international tourists to get visas, especially in countries with rapidly expanding economies such as China and Brazil, while keeping America secure. We're expanding travel options for international visitors as well as programs like Global Entry, which facilitates clearance for preapproved, low-risk travelers.

When the United Nations designated Independence Hall a World Heritage Site, it noted the global significance of what happened here in the late 18th century. It noted that the universal principles of freedom and democracy set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution "were to have a profound impact on lawmakers and political thinkers around the world." We will work with the city and others to invite the world to this birthplace of freedom. In doing so, we will spur growth and create jobs for the people of Philadelphia.

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