Administration aims to boost visits to U.. by 50 percent
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — After working together with key players in the travel and hospitality industries, the Obama administration this week delivered the final version of a National Tourism and Travel Strategy aimed at boosting international travel to the U.S. by 50 percent in the next 10 years.
The ambitious goal would lead to additional spending of $250 billion per year, helping to creat jobs and spur economic growth across the country. It’s the first time that the highest levels of the U.S. government have recognized the potential of tourism as an economic engine.
By some estimates, travel supports more than 14.4 million American jobs and contributes $1.9 trillion to our economy — and travel exports have been booming. Travel exports totaled a record $152 billion in 2011, and the travel industry is now the number one contributor to the country’s balance of trade.
Commerce Secretary John Bryson and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the plan lays out specific actions in five key areas:
- Promoting the United States as a travel destination
- Enabling and enhancing travel and tourism within the United States
- Providing world-class customer service and visitor experiences
- Coordinating efforts across government agencies
- Conducting research and measuring results
“Tens of millions of tourists from all over the world come and visit America every year. They stay in our hotels, they eat at our restaurants, they visit our attractions, and they help create jobs. At a time when too many Americans are still looking for work, we need to make it easier for more people to visit this country and keep our economy growing,” President Obama said in a statement.
“This Administration will continue to do everything we can to support travel and tourism – our number one services export – which will help support millions of American jobs,” Secretary Bryson said. “I am proud of our work on the National Strategy, a product of a strong private-public partnership, which will make the U.S. even more welcoming to visitors and reinforce our message to the world: the United States is open for business.”
“As our nation’s economy continues to gain strength, tourism – especially international tourism – holds the promise of being an economic engine for the country,” Secretary Salazar said. “These recommendations will help make the United States a more attractive travel destination for people around the globe, and I look forward to working with our partners across government and industry to turn this strategy into action.”
“I commend Secretaries Bryson and Salazar for their leadership in preparing the National Strategy,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “This effort required extensive government-wide coordination and broad outreach to the private sector in a short amount of time.
“America has always been a nation of travelers, and there’s nothing we love more than showing off our beautiful country to people from around the globe,” Dow said. “As we move out of the recession, the wheels of the travel industry have not stopped turning. Since the job recovery began, our industry has created more than 250,000 new jobs – nearly 50,000 this year alone – which far outpaces gains in the rest of the economy or by other industries.”
Federal officials said that, in 2011, the travel and tourism industry generated $1.2 trillion from domestic and international travel and supported 7.6 million jobs. International travel to the United States resulting in a record $153 billion in receipts, supporting 1.2 million jobs.
The Commerce Department recently released a travel and tourism forecast projecting that the U.S. can expect 4-5 percent average annual growth in tourism over the next five years, and that 65.4 million foreign travelers are projected to visit the U.S. in 2012 alone.
“The National Travel and Tourism Strategy announced today by the Obama Administration is an important step towards leveraging travel as a cultural, economic and educational force in the United States,” said Russell Hedge, CEO of Hostelling International USA. “In particular, this Strategy has the potential to widen the numbers of young people who have access to travel, and the educational and social benefits that travel brings,” Hedge said.
“Of the 100 million international visitors the Strategy projects to arrive in the U.S. by 2021, youth travelers are a core demographic needing specific focus. Travel by 18-30-year olds is a large and growing travel segment, making up approximately 20 percent of all international arrivals worldwide and expected to grow by more than 50 percent by the year 2020,” he said.
The U.S. State Department has already added 100 workers and expanded hours to process tourist visa applications in China and Brazil, both seen as key markets for the U.S. tourism market. A new consular facility in Beijing should increase visa interview capacity by 50 percent, and consular officers in Brazil can now waive interviews for applicants younger than 15 and older than 66.
The U.S. Travel Association believes even more can be done to spur travel, which could potentially add thousands of new jobs and result in millions of dollars in revenue for American businesses.
The industry also wants the state department to make online consular service more user-friendly, with visa applications translated into native languages, and wants to see more customer service training for consular officers. A long-term strategic plan for opening new visa offices in high-growth markets is also important to sustain gains in tourism growth, the organization said.
Other recommendations include cutting application for travelers willing to apply during off-peak times, and, conversely, to offer expedited visas at a premium cost, as well as allowing existing visa-holders to renew their documents in the U.S.
Perhaps the biggest single step the government could take is expanding the visa waiver program, which enables foreigners to visit the U.S. without a formal visa.
About 17 million travelers from countries without visa requirements visit the U.S. annually — 65 percent of all visitors in 2010, spending more than $61 billion, supporting 433,000 jobs and generating $9 billion in government tax revenues.
The USTA wants the state department to begin formal bilateral visa waiver negotiations countries including Brazil, Poland, Chile, Argentina and Croatia.
Bipartisan legislation pending in the House and Senate could make it easier for the state department to do just that, while still maintaining security at the border.
Besides easing legal requirements, the U.S. could be more welcoming to travelers by increasing staffing and cutting wait times for entry at airports. The USTA also wants more transparency, with mandated reporting to Congress in airport wait times.