The National Restaurant Association took its jobs message to Capitol Hill Tuesday, sharing with congressional staff the economic significance of tourism and business travel to the United States.

"With the travel and tourism industry driving a significant portion of sales across the restaurant industry, the National Restaurant Association is continuing its work to promote policies to welcome more international visitors to the United States," said Angelo Amador, vice president of labor and workforce policy for the NRA. "The restaurant industry is the nation's second-largest private-sector employer, and with the right policies, we can add even more jobs."

The NRA is a leading member of the "Discover America Partnership," a coalition of business and hospitality industry leaders united in their efforts to help the U.S. become more competitive in the global travel marketplace. The group is working to advance common-sense reforms to the U.S. visa system in order to create more than one million new jobs and drive economic growth.

While international travel around the globe has boomed over the past several years, with 48 million more overseas trips taken in 2008 than in 2000, the U.S. has actually lost visitors, welcoming 633,000 fewer overseas travelers over the same period of time, despite a relatively weak dollar and view that the U.S. is considered to be a "bargain" destination for international travel.

Chef and Restaurant Operator Cathal Armstrong of Alexandria, Va., joined the NRA to lend a real-world perspective to the issue.

"Of the 1.8 million jobs supported by international travel alone, over one third is in the restaurant industry," Armstrong said. "Barriers to entry and the views of our potential customers abroad is something that should concern all of us, from restaurant operators to policymakers."

According to NRA research, casual- and family-dining restaurants derive an average of 25 percent of annual sales from travelers and visitors. The trend is even more prevalent among operators of fine-dining establishments, with an average of 40 percent of revenues coming from travelers and visitors. In the quick-service segment, an average of 15 percent of annual sales come from travelers and visitors.

The restaurant industry employs nearly 13 million individuals - close to 10 percent of the U.S. workforce. Each additional million dollars in restaurant sales generates 34 jobs for the economy, and every restaurant job supports almost a full job position elsewhere in the economy. In addition, every dollar spent by consumers in restaurants generates an additional $2.05 spent in our nation's economy.

"With improvements to the U.S. visa system, such as boosting staff numbers, developing a fast-track process for renewals and expanding the visa waiver program to more countries, the U.S. could attract nearly 100 million more legitimate visitors," Amador said. "More visitors means an increase in revenue, which translates to jobs. These new visitors could help create an additional 1.3 million U.S. jobs by 2020."

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