Obama Announces New Initiatives to Boost Tourism in US
Posted on May 12, 2012
The Obama administration on Thursday announced a new plan to boost domestic and international tourism to the United States, highlighting the economic and job benefits to Americans.
“Tens of millions of tourists from all over the world come and visit America every year. They stay in our hotels, they eat at our restaurants, they visit our attractions, and they help create jobs,” President Barack Obama said. “At a time when too many Americans are still looking for work, we need to make it easier for more people to visit this country and keep our economy growing.”
Around $1.2 trillion was generated from domestic and international travel in the United States last year, the U.S. Commerce Department reports. Tourism and related industries supported 7.6 million jobs.
While an estimated 65.4 million foreign travelers will visit the United States this year, the Obama administration would like to boost that number to 100 million annually by 2021.
The president flagged his interest in tourism as an economic driver while visiting Florida in January. Speaking from the Main Street of Orlando’s Walt Disney World resort, the president said speeding up the visa process will increase tourism.
“America is open for business,” he declared in front of the Cinderella Castle in the heart of Disney World. “We’ve got the best product to sell.”
“We’ve got the most entertaining destinations in the world. This is the land of extraordinary natural wonders,” he added.
Emphasizing the administration’s interest in tourism as a boost to the U.S. economy, Obama signed an executive order calling for improved initiatives and announced a new National Tourism and Travel Strategy.
The new strategy will focus on ramping up the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board with 32 high-profile CEOs from the private sector, while expanding information and tourist promotion programs. It will also facilitate easier passage through airport security for low-risk visitors under its Global Entry Program.
With eco-tourism a growing trend, the administration also announced a special task force to encourage tourism to America’s abundant national parks, wildlife reserves, and iconic natural destinations.
“In 2010, more than 400 million visits were made by American and international travellers [to these regions]… contributing nearly $50 billion in economic activity and 400,000 jobs,” the White House said in a statement.
The regional focus is expected to boost rural economies like Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming, many of which have been hit hard by the housing crisis.
The announcement also recognizes the increasing presence of travelers from emerging economies with growing middle classes, such as China, Brazil, and India. The State Department and the Department of Homeland Security have been proactive in developing strategies to process visas, such as increasing nonimmigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40 percent in 2012.
Tourists from Brazil and China spend more than $5,000 and $6,000 respectively each, per trip, according to the Department of Commerce. In 2010, nationals from all three countries contributed a combined $15 billion and thousands of jobs to the U.S. economy.
The State Department has also been examining the Visa Waiver Program, which currently caters to 60 percent of international tourists.
The secretary of state has requested that the secretary of homeland security consider Taiwan in particular for the Visa Waiver Program.
“Over the past year, Taiwan has undertaken significant efforts to improve its law enforcement and document security standards to meet the strict requirements for Visa Waiver Program eligibility,” said a White House press release.
Under the Visa Waiver Program, participating nationals can travel to the United States for tourism or business stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa.
The Department of Homeland Security has added nine countries to the Visa Waiver Program since November 2008, bringing the total to 36 participating countries.
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