The U.S. Travel Association has released of a report detailing the economic consequences of lengthy wait times experienced by millions of travelers in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) entry process. The report proposes 20 policy changes to address the problem.
The study's release was accompanied by an open letter to Congress co-signed by a diverse representation of travel executives urging prompt attention to the recommendations and calling for legislative vehicles for reform.
With international travel to the U.S. measuring record levels and forecast to increase in years ahead, including a national goal to welcome 100 million visitors by 2021, new resources are critical to improving the ability of CBP officers to process passengers more efficiently while meeting every security need, the U.S. Travel says.
Failure to enact meaningful enhancements will do measurable harm to the U.S. economy as it continues its recovery, the report finds. U.S. Travel estimates the total cost to our economy of delaying and deterring visitors is $95 billion over the next five years—dollars that could support 518,000 American jobs.
"The U.S. welcomed 67 million visitors last year, and far too many of these valued customers spent the first hours of their trip waiting in line at U.S. air ports of entry," said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. "International travel is a bright spot for the U.S. economy, but long lines and wait times that many experience during entry are deterring millions of potential visitors while our country is working to rebuild its global market share. The issue is not CBP officers themselves, whom even delayed travelers regard as competent and hard-working; the problems lie in policy and resources, which Congress must address."
The report, titled "Gateway to Jobs & Growth: Creating a Better Traveler Entry Process," finds the effects of simply standing in an entry line, rather than spending money in our economy, cost travel-related businesses $416 million each year—dollars that could support 3,700 jobs.
More damaging, though, are opportunity costs associated with unrealized spending by potential travelers to the U.S. who decide against visiting due to negative perceptions about the entry process, U.S. Travel said.
The report finds that 2.7 million international travelers—about nine percent of potential trips—avoid visiting the U.S. every year because of this problem. With each overseas traveler spending an average of nearly $4,500, that translates to $11.8 billion lost annually directly to travel industry businesses. The report finds that if reforms were in place to guarantee the primary inspection process did not exceed 30 minutes, the resulting surge in visitors would generate approximately $3.5 billion in positive economic impact and create 24,000 jobs.
"I join with other travel leaders in calling on Congress to invest in the U.S. entry process so that our international guests feel welcomed from the first moment they enter the country," said Jim Abrahamson, CEO of Interstate Hotels & Resorts and national chair of the U.S. Travel Association. "Our path to welcoming 100 million or more international travelers every year is paved with reforms to our visa issuance process, our newly established national tourism promotion program and, now, improvements to the U.S. entry process."
"At all of our gateway airports, we continuously work to create an efficient and best-in-class experience for our passengers," said Rosemarie S. Andolino, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Aviation and chair of U.S. Travel's Gateway Airports Council. "We believe that Congress should provide increased funding for CBP staff and initiatives such as Automated Passport Control to improve the re-entry process for U.S. and international travelers."
Necessary policy adjustments identified by U.S. Travel and outlined in the report include:
• Hiring 3,500 additional CBP officers as provided for in the Senate immigration bill (S. 744);
• Staffing flexibility to ensure CBP's officers are allocated for maximum efficiency;
• Implementing enhanced technology to alleviate pressure on CBP officer staffing;
• Reducing peak wait times by 50 percent and processing each traveler within 30 minutes; and
• Enhancing transparency to improve government and private-sector coordination.
The comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the U.S. Senate provides for an additional 3,500 CBP officers and calls for reducing average primary processing wait times at high-volume international airports by 50 percent, U.S. Travel noted. The bill also sets a goal of screening 80 percent of air passengers being processed at high-volume international airports in under 30 minutes by the end of fiscal year 2016.
In addition to its data research, U.S. Travel interviewed travelers to learn about their entry experience and hear what improvements they would most value. Throughout U.S. Travel's outreach, travelers consistently responded that they appreciate the hard-working CBP officers, but entry checkpoints are too understaffed to effectively process the volume of arriving passengers. The video interviews highlight travelers' experiences and sentiments about the entry process and are available at www.travelersvoice.org.