President Obama's new plan to increase travel to the U.S. won strong support from virtually all sectors of the travel industry, including members of Congress. The Obama plan - announced last Thursday in Orlando - will take steps to relax visa rules that streamline the process for visitors, but without endangering national security.
Congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus Co-Chair, Congressman Sam Farr (D-Carmel- CA) praised the President's Executive Order to improve travel visa processing and support travel promotion by federal agencies.
“As our economy struggles to recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, it is vitally important that we do not impede international tourists from visiting and spending their dollars in all our communities across the nation," Farr said.
The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) noted that the administration’s decision to expand the Global Entry program "will make international air travel far more efficient for today’s business travelers." GBTA also approved the decision to reduce wait times for visas in countries like China and Brazil.
Airlines for America (A4A) also praised the program. “Streamlining and enhancing the visa application process for international visitors to the United States without compromising our national security, is of vital importance to the U.S. airlines in continuing their contribution to the U.S. global economy,” said A4A President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio.
“An improved visa process is a key component of a much-needed national airline policy, and we commend President Obama for his announced visa process improvements and expansion of the Global Entry program for expedited travel, which will help to expand U.S. access to rapidly growing global markets," A4A said.
Citing the power of travel to fuel economic recovery and create jobs, Lisa Simon, president of NTA, praised the move. "With President Obama’s action, the travel and tourism industry has reached an all-time high in terms of vigor and visibility. His executive order, combined with the recent creation of Brand USA and ongoing Congressional hearings on travel issues, shows the vital economic contributions of tourism."
Increasing the visa application process has been one of several tourism-related subjects of Senate hearings in recent months, the NTA noted. President Obama’s order calls for a 40 percent increase in the capacity for visa processing during the coming year and expands the visa waiver program.
Brand USA - the promotional arm of the Corporation for Travel Promotion - was established by the Travel Promotion Act of 2009 with the goal of increasing the number of international inbound travelers.
Obama's executive order also creates the Task Force on Travel and Competitiveness and charges it to work with Brand USA to increase the United States’ market share of worldwide travel. The task force is also charged with promoting travel to U.S. national parks and expanding tourism opportunities in rural communities.
Ken Chenault, Chairman and CEO of American Express, also praised the Presidents initiative: "The initiatives the President announced will help to expand travel and tourism to the United States and recapture our share of a growing, global market. In our work on the President’s Jobs Council, we highlighted the potential in the travel industry for job growth, particularly as we take steps to attract more travelers to the United States. This industry is one of America's largest employers."
Brand USA also applauded the program, welcoming the creation of a national travel and tourism strategy aimed at growing the U.S. economy through increased international travel to the United States.
Brand USA praised several features of the plan, including: expanding and making permanent the Global Entry program; increasing efforts to expand the Visa Waiver Program and travel by nationals eligible to participate in the Visa Waiver Program, (including Taiwan); increasing non-immigrant visa processing capacity in Brazil and China by 40 percent in 2012 and creating an interagency government task force to work with Brand USA to promote travel and tourism opportunities.
"We commend the administration's new efforts, which correspond directly with the mandate of Brand USA, which is to promote travel to the United States, thereby increasing U.S. export revenues and creating new American jobs," said Brand USA Chairman and CEO of Diamond Resorts International Stephen J. Cloobeck.
"Travel and tourism, which has long been the United States' number one service sector export, has the potential to be the jobs creator and economic powerhouse that sets the United States on a path of economic recovery," Cloobeck said.
Supporters note that the global travel industry is booming. In 2010, the travel and tourism industry supported 7.4 million direct travel jobs; generated $188.4 billion in wages; and directly contributed $118 billion in tax revenue to government at all levels, leading economic recovery nationwide.
The U.S. Travel Association notes that between March 2010 and July 2011, job growth in the travel industry was 84 percent faster than the rest of the economy.
Brand USA noted that travel from the emerging markets of Brazil, China and India will be important growth markets. Travel from these countries increased 110 percent between 2000 and 2010. Spending from these countries resulted in $14.9 billion in export revenue in 2010. Demand for visas is stronger than ever from these emerging markets and growing - since 2005 demand from Brazil has gone up 234 percent, 124 percent in China and 51 percent in India, Brand USA said.
Brand USA, formerly the Corporation for Travel Promotion, was created in 2010 and will launch its advertising campaign this spring. It continues to work closely with all stakeholders, including U.S. government officials, who are helping to maximize its efforts to position the U.S. as a destination of choice for travelers.
Tony Gonchar, ASTA CEO, also offered praise. “President Obama has recognized the potential of the tourism sector to create more jobs, add fiscal growth to our national economy, and improve our balance of trade. ASTA is particularly pleased to see the focus on increasing visa waiver countries, reducing visa interview and visa issuance waiting times, and streamlining access to the United States by making the Global Entry Program permanent." ASTA also noted that member agent Olga Ramudo is on the Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, giving travel agents a strong voice in policy and planning.