A U.S. Senate vote has moved the Travel Promotion Act one step closer to becoming law. The act, designed to attract more international visitors to the U.S., provides for the creation of a nonprofit, public-private partnership charged with promoting international travel to the United States and educating foreign travelers about the documents they need to enter the country. The Senate passed the Act (S. 1023) September 9 by a vote of 79-19.

“The United States Senate … took a giant step toward regaining America’s position as the premier travel destination and strengthening our struggling economy,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, in a statement following the Senate vote. “Nearly every company, city, state, and developed nation understands the power of promotion. By getting in the global game, America will create tens of thousands of new jobs and strengthen its image in the world as visitors leave with an improved perception of our country and her people.”

The Senate bill was sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), whose states’ travel industries have been particularly hard hit by the recession.

“Our state is still reeling from some of the hardest economic times many of us have seen in our lifetimes,” said Ensign. “This legislation will help to create jobs, without adding to the debt or raising Americans taxes.”

The House of Representatives passed similar legislation last year, but it never received a Senate vote. A new House companion bill, H.R. 2935, is co-sponsored by 68 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The act would be funded through a matching program featuring up to $100 million in private-sector contributions and a $10 fee on foreign travelers who do not pay for a visa to enter the United States. That fee is collected once every two years in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization.

The European Union recently complicated the issue. John Bruton, head of the European Commission Delegation to the United States, last week reiterated European concerns over the Travel Promotion Act, particularly the $10 fee on foreign travelers. “The proposed $10 penalty for entering the United States is being sold as a ‘tourist promotion’ measure—but only in Alice in Wonderland could a penalty be seen as promoting the activity on which it is imposed,” said Bruton. “The idea is that the $10 per traveler ($20, according to a proposed amendment) would be used to establish a nonprofit corporation to communicate U.S. entry policies better to international travelers and to promote leisure, business, and scholarly travel to the United States. This is being done in the Travel Promotion Act of 2009 (S.1023). If passed, a fee of up to $20 per person would thus be levied on foreign travelers via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA); effectively a tax on tourists to encourage tourism, which is a questionable—if not paradoxical—concept.”

Bruton also said the European Union is concerned that the entry fee could increase in future years and that, once in place, there could be calls from within Europe to levy similar fees on American travelers going to Europe, which “could further depress transatlantic travel.”