President Obama’s Plan to Boost U.S. Tourism

President Obama announced plans to increase travel to the United States from Disney World's Main Street, USA.

Thursday at Disney World in Orlando, President Barack Obama announced an executive order aimed at boosting international tourism visits to the United States. The initiative is getting a positive reception from the travel industry, which has advocated for years for some of the changes the new order includes. David Scowsill, president and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council, called it “a major step forward for the world’s biggest travel and tourism economy,” according to eTurboNews.

The President’s order includes plans aimed at promoting the United States as a travel destination and several moves that will make it easier for visitors to enter the country. It expands the visa waiver and Global Entry programs and calls for the creation of a task force to improve promotion efforts.

Changes will affect travelers from all over the world, but the administration called out three countries for special treatment—Taiwan, which is being added to the visa waiver program; and China and Brazil, which will see changes to their visa application processes that should lead to better access. Not a bad idea, considering that both are fast-growing and lucrative markets. The U.S. Travel Association estimates that Chinese visitors’ average spend per trip is $6,243, and Brazilians’ is $4,940.

The White House’s outline of the program can be viewed here. Below are the action steps the President called for:

  • Create a joint task force between the Secretaries of Commerce and the Interior to promote domestic and inbound travel. A focus will be placed on promoting national parks, wildlife refuges, cultural and historic sites, monuments and other public lands.
  • Increase non-immigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40 percent in 2012.
  • Ensure that 80 percent of non-immigrant visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of receipt of application.
  • Add Taiwan to the visa waiver program, allowing Taiwanese nationals to visit the United States for tourism or business for up to 90 days with no visa. This would be the tenth country added since 2008. The recommendation to add Taiwan is pending Department of Homeland Security approval.
  • Create a Department of Commerce website for travelers from key markets that culls visa-process information and statistics from across the federal government.
  • Launch pilot program and rule change for visa processing in China and Brazil, with the goal of streamlining the non-immigrant visa process for certain applicants. Changes will include waiving interviews for very low-risk applicants, such as those replying for renewals and younger or older first-time applicants from Brazil.
  • Expand the Global Entry Program to four more airports—Charlotte, Denver, Minneapolis and Phoenix. The Global Entry Program, created in 2008, expedites pre-approved, low-risk travelers from abroad. The administration estimates that this expansion will make the program active at airports that service 97 percent of arrivals to the United States.
  • Appoint 32 private-sector executives to the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board. The full list can be viewed on the Department of Commerce website. Companies represented include Sabre Holdings, JetBlue Airways, Mall of America and Marriott International.

Photo: Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Hebert; Whitehouse.gov

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