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Travel and tourism should headline Las Vegas debate

Las Vegas is widely known as the Entertainment Capital of the World. In business circles, it’s also the Convention Capital. But next week, all eyes will be on Southern Nevada as it takes up the moniker of Political Capital of the World. All eyes will be on us as the two major party candidates take the stage at UNLV for the final presidential debate.

Having the attention of the country and the world provides us with a great opportunity to drive the political conversation.

We all know that travel and tourism drive our local economy. Nearly half of all Southern Nevada residents have a job because of the tourism industry. More than $50 billion is injected into our economy every year from the 42 million visitors who travel here. The industry affords us the luxury of not paying state income tax and provides critical tax dollars to support school construction, teacher salaries and road improvements.

McCarran International Airport is one of the 10 busiest airports in the nation and continues to work with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to attract more airlines and routes to reach even more destinations around the world, including the recent announcement that Hainan Airlines will be bringing our first ever direct service from mainland China.

Despite all of these great statistics and exciting news, travel and tourism is not a guaranteed economic boon. It is incumbent upon all of us to make sure that the industry remains at the top of the conversation and that policymakers understand the criticality of the industry to our local and national economies. Travel and tourism is a $1 trillion industry nationally and supports more jobs than the auto industry — jobs that cannot be outsourced or exported. We cannot continue to allow travel and tourism to be considered only a recreational pursuit.

As the political world descends on Southern Nevada, we need to focus the conversation on policies and issues critical to the health of the industry. Safety and security should always be the first priority, and one of the key programs for the tourism industry that adds to the safety of incoming visitors is the Visa Waiver Program.

Despite its name, the program is in no way a “waiver” of safety and security. Quite the opposite. The program ensures that the security measures required to enter the United States are expressly followed by countries admitted to the program. With recent incidents taking place around the world, this program has come under fire, and we need to make certain that it continues to be supported and expanded.

Infrastructure is another critical aspect of the travel and tourism industry. If we cannot safely and efficiently move people to and within our country, the tourism industry will falter. Long-term funding for the Federal Aviation Administration, the highway system and the NextGen satellite navigation system for aircraft are critical for the future of the industry.

In addition, trusted traveler programs such as TSA PreCheck provide increased efficiencies at airport check-in, reducing wait times and long lines at security checkpoints. We need to continue encouraging enrollment in these programs to provide a better travel experience.

These are just a few of the key policies and programs that we need to support and promote as we have the opportunity to lead the political conversation.

Lawrence Weekly, a Democrat, represents District D on the Clark County Commission and is chairman of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board of directors.

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