WASHINGTON - TV viewers abroad may soon find themselves watching commercials urging them to visit America.
In the Oval Office this morning, President Obama signed legislation to launch a campaign to promote foreign travel to the U.S.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a leading proponent of the measure. His home state of Nevada, led by Las Vegas, depends heavily on tourism.
"We're the only country in the world, major country in the world, that doesn't promote itself," Reid said last month at a Town Hall Meeting with Mr. Obama in Henderson, NV.
Reid pointed to commercials on American television promoting travel to Jamaica, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.
"We hope within two or three months, we'll be promoting ourselves," Reid said, clearly making an increase in tourism a plank of his re-election drive.
The Travel Promotion Act will create a nonprofit corporation to encourage and facilitate foreign travel to America. Costs of the program will be shared by the public and private sectors. The federal government is expected to provide up to $100-million a year. The funds would come from a $10 fee slapped on travelers from the 35 countries that are part of the Visa Waiver Program in the U.S.
Under that plan, visitors have to pay the fee when they go online to pre-register their arrival in the U.S. Supporters say ten dollars is a lot less expensive than the average $130 fee foreign visitors have to pay for a regular visa.
Reid says that encouraging foreign travel to the U.S. will "save half a billion dollars over ten years and create tens of thousands of jobs."
The new law has bipartisan support. Members of Congress of both parties were invited to watch Mr. Obama sign the measure, though it was off-limits to press coverage.
The bill passed the House and Senate by sizeable margins.
It remains to be seen what kind of advertising slogans the corporation will come up with to encourage travel to the U.S. Not everything about us might be appealing to foreigners.
It's doubtful, for example, we'll see a commercial that says: "Come to America. Join the debate over health care reform."
Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/markknoller.