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Travel: Tourist visits to U.S. up 10 percent this summer

Efforts to speed visa-processing paying off; tourism industry touts job-growth potential

Western outdoor destinations play an important role in the national tourism equation.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — International tourism to the U.S. surged during the summer travel season, with the number of visitors increasing 10 percent from the previous year and revenues also climbing.

In a new report issued this week, the White House is at least partly crediting the administration’s travel and tourism policy, which set very specific goals for visa processing and other measures to help boost travel to the U.S.

As a result of the policies, visa wait times in Brazil and China have been cut dramatically, from 140 days down to an average of two days in Brazil, according to the report.

Mexico and Canada still send the most visitors to the U.S. In 2011, the 10 visa-issuing posts in Mexico processed more than 1.5 million requests, up 33 percent from the previous year.

China is seen as a particularly critical market. By some estimates, visits from China to the U.S. could triple by 2016, potentially contributing to the creation of new jobs and generating tourism revenues across the country.

Overall, the U.S. tourism and travel industry contributes $1.4 trillion in economic activity and sustained 7.5 million jobs in 2011.  The travel and tourism industry projects that more than 1 million American jobs could be created over the next decade if the U.S. increased its share of the international travel market.

“I’m glad we’re making progress and I’ll continue to do whatever I can to strengthen the travel and tourism industry and create an economy that’s built to last,” Obama said in a prepared statement accompanying release of the report.

July tourism revenue in the U.S. increased by $13.7 bilion (3 percent) from the previous year, to $13.7 billion.

According to the travel industry and Bureau of Economic Analysis, international travel is particularly important as overseas or “long-haul” travelers spend on average $4,000 per visit, which in turn supports and leads to additional travel and tourism-related jobs.

As a next step, administration officials plan a tourism listening tour, visiting various cities across the country to take input from state and local officials, small business owners, and key stakeholder organizations.

The report highlights progress in key areas:

  • In key markets such as China, Consular officers are keeping interview wait times to an average of five days in 2012 while managing a year-on-year 37 percent increase in visa demand.  Consular officers in Brazil have brought wait times down by 98 percent, from a high of 140 days in São Paulo, to just two days right now, while also managing a 37 percent jump in year-on-year demand.
  • Streamlining Processing to Save Time without Sacrificing National Security: A pilot program that allows consular officers to waive in-person interviews for certain nonimmigrant visa renewal applicants is operational at 52 visa processing posts in 28 countries.  Consular officers have waived interviews for more than 120,000 low-risk visa applicants.
  • Expanding Facilities: The State Department is investing millions of dollars to upgrade and expand its existing consular facilities. A new consulate building will open in Guangzhou in 2013, and a new consular section in Wuhan in 2014.
  • In Brazil new consulates will open in Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre by 2014.  These investments in infrastructure will increase visa processing capacity in Brazil by 140 percent and in China by 120 percent over 2011 levels.
  • In Mexico, State continues to invest in new facilities, with new buildings opening in Monterrey in 2014, and DHS is using new technology extensively at the border to dramatically reduce wait times.
  • Staffing Increases: By the end of 2012, the State Department will have created more than 50 new visa adjudicator positions in China and 60 in Brazil, including 43 hired under an innovative staffing program.  With these staff increases, State met the Executive Order’s 40 percent capacity increase target in Brazil in June 2012, and will meet the target in China by December 2012.
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