Finally, Incoming Tourism Could Be ‘Ready for Takeoff'

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The U.S. Travel Association today released a 52-page report detailing the inadequacies of the current visitor visa process and unveiled a plan that would create 1.3 million U.S. jobs and add $850 billion to the U.S. economy by 2020 by reforming the antiquated system and welcoming foreign guests.

The news is no doubt music to the ears of most hotel company executives who have long lamented the failings of the current visa process.

"As a nation, we're putting up a ‘keep out' sign," said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. "The U.S. imposes unnecessary barriers on international visitors, and that inhibits our economic growth.”

The 52-page report—titled “Ready for Takeoff: A Plan to Create 1.3 Million U.S. Jobs by Welcoming Millions of International Travelers” (download the PDF here)—recommends four steps to overhaul the system:

• America must align U.S. State Department resources with market demands;

• America must reduce visa interview wait times to 10 days or fewer;

• The U.S. State Department must improve planning, measurement and transparency; and

• America must expand the Visa Waiver Program.

In San Diego at this year's Americas Lodging Investment Summit, Marriott President Arne Sorenson talked about the importance of outbound travelers from countries like China and the jobs that would need to be created here to host the U.S's share of the projected 100 million Chinese traveling abroad in the next five years.

“We're all vying for pieces of the same pie,” said Best Western CEO David Kong on the same industry leaders panel at the event, “but if the pie was twice as big, that would be good for everyone. We all need to work together."

The USTA's report is the first step to welcoming international travelers. Its Discover America Partnership—with the AH&LA, the National Restaurant Association, the National Retail Federation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—should help the lobbying efforts to see the recommendations become reality.

Hotel owners and executives need to follow suit, and do what Sorenson called for in San Diego: “We all need tell our elected officials.”

The reasons are obvious.

"Increasing travel to the United States is the most effective form of economic stimulus,” said Dow. “Travel supports communities, injecting billions into the U.S. economy and creating millions of new jobs."

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