To help meet the growing demand for travel to the United States, the U.S. Travel Association urged Congress and the Obama Administration to provide the resources necessary for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to securely and efficiently process the nearly 30 million overseas arrivals at U.S. airports each year.
In a open letter to the industry, Roger Dow, president and CEO of U.S. Travel, praised the CPB and urged support of their mission. Dow also released new research highlighting the "remarkable" number of foreign guests frustrated with the Customs process and their decision to dissuade others from traveling to the United State.
"Our industry created Brand USA to promote America around the world. Working hand-in-hand with the Obama Administration, our industry made enormous progress in expanding the Visa Waiver Program and reducing visa wait times in prominent travel markets such as Brazil and China. Now is the time to address the next great hurdle for our foreign guests: The entry experience that is too often defined by one to three hour long waits at our gateway airports, " Dow said.
The survey of 1,200 overseas travelers from six top travel markets offers findings that are disappointing:
• Forty-three percent of travelers who visited the United States say they would tell other people to avoid a trip because of the inefficient entry process that they experienced.
• Visitors to the United States report they would share their travel experience with an average of eight other people – multiplying the impact of negative experiences.
• Among potential business travelers, 44 percent report they will not visit the United States in the next five years because of the inefficient entry process.
• One in seven travelers surveyed say they have missed a connection because of delays at Customs, costing our industry cancelled hotel rooms, car rentals and other trip-related activities.
• Almost two-thirds of those surveyed said that eliminating long lines and wait times would make the United States a more attractive destination.
These results were gathered prior to sequestration budget cuts, which are likely to result in decreased overtime and furloughs of CBP officers, U.S. Travel says.
Key U.S. Travel conclusions include:
Billions of Dollars and Millions of American Jobs at Risk: Based on these findings, we estimate that more than 100 million travelers are either experiencing an inefficient entry process themselves or being told to avoid a trip to the United States because of it. Altogether, by deterring and delaying visitors to the U.S., our economy is losing at least $95 billion in total output and 518,900 jobs across our economy.
A Solvable Challenge: Simply put, it is penny-wise and pound-foolish to not invest in the necessary number of Customs officers to effectively process the millions of travelers who wish to do nothing more than spend billions of dollars in our economy.
U.S. Travel is offering several solutions to the challenge:
• Accountability – Just as the President set a goal for attracting more international visitors to the U.S., we need to set a clear goal for processing each passenger in 30 minutes or less when they arrive. By achieving a 30-minute goal, more than 40 percent of respondents that hadn't visited the U.S. would be more likely to and 45 percent of previous visitors would be more likely to plan another visit to our country.
• Transparency – We urge CBP to provide greater transparency in wait time data. The U.S. Department of State sets a great example by posting visa interview wait times, good or bad, online.
• Flexibility – We need flexibility in staffing to be sure that travelers are processed efficiently, while not forgetting Customs' important law-enforcement role. We urge Congress to address CBP staffing needs by hiring non-law enforcement personnel to perform administrative tasks. This will permit more CBP officers to do the most sensitive security tasks.
U.S. Travel said it will partner with the airline and airport communities to prepare a major campaign to achieve these solutions.
"Demand for travel to the United States is high, the Obama Administration has made travel a priority, and Brand USA is spreading a welcoming message. Improving the Customs experience is the next great challenge that our industry must tackle."