Proposals to Boost International Travel

Concerned about a significant decline in international business and leisure travel to the United States and the nation's deteriorating image abroad, a coalition of business leaders released last week a major plan to win back this country's share of this lucrative market. Stevan Porter, president of InterContinental Hotels Group and chairman of Discover America Partnership (left), with Jay Rasulo

The three-part plan, A Blueprint to Discover America, was issued by the Discover America Partnership and officially announced at a Washington, D.C. press conference January 31. The plan is based on three elements—creating a more technologically advanced visa system, modernizing and securing U.S. ports of entry and changing international perceptions of the U.S. visa and entry systems through coordinated communications.

The plan is in response to a steep, sustained decline in overseas travel and a simultaneous drop in the nation's image abroad. Overseas travel to the U.S. is down 17 percent since 2001, with business travel alone down 10 percent from 2004 to 2005. The result: a loss of $93 billion in economic activity and nearly 200,000 jobs since 2001. Chief among the reasons for the decline in international travel to the U.S. is concern about the U.S. visa process and perception of poor treatment at points of entry into our country. The Blueprint to Discover America provides strategies to address each of these serious issues.

"The blueprint we have created shows that it is well within America's reach to be both more welcoming and more secure," said Jay Rasulo, chairman of WaltDisneyParks and Resorts and national chairman of the Travel Industry Association. "This is not merely a travel industry challenge or even a private sector challenge—it is America's challenge."

The partnership estimates the cost of its proposals to be $300 million and expects them to generate more than 190,000 new jobs, $16.5 billion in spending and $2.6 billion in federal, state and local tax revenues.

A same-day U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing proposed enabling 30-day visa application processing via better consulate staffing, processing all international travelers in 30 minutes or less via hiring more Customs and Border Patrol officers for top inbound airports and creating a plan to improve perceptions of America in target countries. Senator Byron Dorgan, the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Interstate Commerce, Trade and Tourism, spearheaded these efforts.

The Discover America Partnership was launched in September 2006 by leaders in the travel industry and other businesses. Visit www.poweroftravel.org.

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