The recent Congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus breakfast meeting with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano offered an insight into the DHS’s agenda for the travel industry.
Secretary Napolitano outlined five areas of general focus within her department, according to the NTA. These were a focus on preventing the continuing threat of terrorism; securing U.S. borders by air, land, and sea; enforcing immigration laws, including visas, who gets them and the conditions of the visas; preparation and response to natural and man-made disasters and the administrative task of unifying the multiple-agency Department of Homeland Security.
“The initiation of this series of events by the Caucus is a wonderful way to maintain a dialogue between congressional leaders, key officials of the Obama administration, and leaders in the travel sector,” said Lisa Simon, president of the National Tour Association (NTA) and one of the 20 attendees at the meeting.
“All in attendance look forward to having a broad base of travel executives participate in these informal discussions. Secretary Napolitano was well informed on key travel issues, candid, and responsive to the topics discussed,” Simon noted.
Napolitano addressing the following travel sector issues:
1. DHS is following the legislative activity on the Travel Promotion Act of 2009. Under the legislation, DHS will be responsible for collecting the US$10 visitor fee from Visa waiver countries.
2. DHS supports the “Pass ID” enhancement of drivers licenses to provide adequate identification for domestic travel without passports. Urgent legislation sponsored by Senators Akaka and Voinovich needs immediate support. Without this legislation, some airline passengers will be turned away.
3. Money from the Recovery & Reinvestment Act will enable the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to screen baggage more quickly for explosives and reduce the number of airports that have separate locations—other than behind the counter—for baggage drop off.
4. DHS will improve border crossing facilities at land ports on the Canadian border (Mexican border facilities are managed by the U.S. General Services Administration).
5. DHS will expand the number of US customs and customs screening pre-clearance sites abroad. New sites include Bermuda and Shannon, Ireland.
6. DHS will create a more welcoming environment at entry facilities with films greeting visitors, better hospitality trained staff and broader multilingual capabilities within the U.S. Customs staff.
7. DHS will continue to work closely with the travel sector on the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). Noting the recent drop in travel to and from Canada, DHS will cooperate on improvements in the implementation of WHTI, if it is one of the causes of this drop in visitation.
According to the NTA, Secretary Napolitano received input on various issues, including the security of American-owned hotels overseas, the excellent handling by her department to date on the H1N1 flu virus, improvements already made to provide a more welcoming TSA, travel sector relationships with various agencies within DHS, better information for travelers on the new “Secure Flight” program and other cooperative efforts.