This week, we had a Travel Talks Roundtable with Rep. Bill Johnson (R, OH-6) at Bob Evans Farm in Rio Grande, Ohio. The Congressman met with 15 travel and tourism leaders including representatives from the Ohio Travel Association, Enterprise, Super 8 Motels, and Gallia County Commissioners office.
Amir Elyon, President of Tourism Consulting Firm Longwood International, began the discussion of the Visa Waiver Program and its importance to the travel and tourism economy in Ohio. Congressman Johnson agreed that the program is important for the U.S. economy but said it is vital that a balance be struck between the needs of the economy and the safety of US citizens. He said he is especially worried about Europe's lax immigration policies allowing undesirable citizens into the US through the waiver program. Amir discussed security of the program. Kaitlyn Haley from the Gallia County Visitor Bureau mentioned she received a great deal of European visitors in the area, including 3 groups from Germany in the last month alone.
The topic then turned to infrastructure and how Appalachia struggles even more than most areas in this regard. Amir pointed out that 80% of travel and tourism in Ohio, and even more in Southeast Ohio, is done by car. Congressman Johnson mentioned the very real and immediate need for improvement in roads and bridges in his district. Johnson stated next to healthcare and tax reform, infrastructure is the administration and Congress’ biggest priority. He attended a meeting at the White House two weeks ago where he was briefed on the president's plan. He agrees there must be a new funding source but is uncertain what that should be. Amir then asked about his thoughts on airport modernization. Johnson agreed that this is an essential component and will likely support legislation that moves this forward. He said it is also a priority for the Trump administration, but is uncertain of immediate plans.
The group all shared the local data on the economic impact of travel and tourism to Ohio. Congressman Johnson and his Field Representative Julie Stephens received a tour of the Farm with Clark Walker, Bob Evans Farm Manager and Amir. Clark used this time to discuss with the Congressman the impact the Farm has on tourism in the region and how that has impacted the local economy.
Thank you to Congressman Johnson for taking the time to meet with the travel leaders in his district!