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US seeks to ease visit visa procedures

Posted on June 11, 2014
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The US plans to make the visa application and approval process more efficient, said a high-ranking at the US Travel Association (USTA).
“For travelers from nations where visa requirements remain in place, including Saudi Arabia, the goal is to make the application and approval process more efficient,” said Patricia Rojas-Ungar, vice president of government relations at the USTA, during a recent IPW press briefing in Chicago.

“Saudi Arabia is the largest travel market in the Middle East region, generating approximately $320 million sold airline revenues to the USA annually,” Jimmy Eichelgruen, sales director for Africa, the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent for Delta Air Lines and chair of the IPW Selection Committee for Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, told Arab News.
“The Kingdom is one of the top 12 trading partners with the United States and enjoys strong socio-economic ties.”

For Saudis and the millions of global citizens who must go through a complex, expensive and possibly unsuccessful visa approval process to attempt a visit to the United States, it is easy to understand why the US wants to improve the visa process.

“For the last couple of years, we have worked with the Obama administration to help them understand the value of people getting processed in a timely manner,” said Rojas-Ungar.

The Obama government wants to welcome more than 100 million international travelers to the US by 2021.
The president’s recent executive order has made it a national priority to compete in the booming worldwide travel industry by rolling out a new, global welcome mat.

In response, the US is reforming its visa process to become more efficient and secure.
The USTA and their travel industry allies say they will see a record-breaking number of international visitor numbers.
Last year, international travelers spent a record-breaking $180.7 billion on US travel and tourism-related goods and services, up by more than nine percent from 2012.

“The average international traveler spends $4,500 a visit,” US Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow told Arab News.
“The average length of stay of leisure visitors from Saudi Arabia in the USA is around two weeks,” said Eichelgruen.


“Add to that high disposable income,” he said. “The annual spend per family on a US vacation is considerably higher than most citizens from other countries.”

In the US, the international travel industry is now one of the highest performing contributors to its economy. In some markets, including the Middle East, travelers who previously waited for as long as 100 or more days to get a visa can sometimes now pick them up in less than a week.
The simple visa process has enhanced this growth in a very positive way, said Bosco Rodrigues, travel division manager of the National Flight Service in Jeddah.

“This increase has been supported by the national carrier, Saudi Arabian Airlines, which recently introduced direct flights to Los Angeles three times a week from Jeddah and Riyadh. New York and Washington continue to be served by them as before.”

Rodrigues anticipates continued growth from the Gulf region to the US.
“These benefits extend well beyond the US travel industry to include retail, restaurants, transportation and other businesses,” said Brand USA’s President and CEO, Chris Thompson, during a recent IPW press briefing.
Under the auspices of the USTA, the International Pow Wow (IPW) is working on increasing arrivals by encouraging international travelers to visit the US.

One method to ease travel hassles has recently been established in Abu Dhabi, which allows air passengers to clear customs from their point of departure.
“This makes it much better for international passengers, as they don’t have to worry about missing connecting flights when they land in the United States, so it is less stressful for them,” said Dow.
“Abu Dhabi now allows pre-clearance for all their flights to the US.”

BARBARA FERGUSON

1 June 2014

http://www.arabnews.com/news/580106

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