America used to be the No. 1 destination for foreign travelers. But since 2000, the United States has lost more than 30 percent of its share of the global travel market.
Last week, President Obama issued an executive order he hopes will reverse that trend. Among the initiatives: Increase nonimmigrant visa processing capabilities for China and Brazil by 40 percent; interview 80 percent of nonimmigrant applicants within three weeks of receipt of application; expand the number of visa waiver countries and the reach of reciprocal recognition programs for expedited entry like the Global Entry program.
“This industry [travel] is one of America’s largest employers,” said Ken Chenault, chairman and CEO of American Express. “The president’s initiatives, such as accelerating the review of visa applications and expanding the Visa Waiver Program, will ease travel to the United States, help the industry grow and create American jobs.”
The United States Travel Association (USTA), which has been lobbying for many of these reforms, praised the presidential order. “Not only will this increase traffic to America’s wonderful destinations and attractions, but nearly half of the travelers will come to attend conferences and trade shows,” said USTA President and CEO Roger Dow.
Obama’s first public declaration of support for the travel industry came shortly after meeting with a USTA-led travel industry coalition in March 2009. Despite previous statements he had made discouraging companies that had taken bailout money from going to Las Vegas, he said he would “encourage people to travel.” A year later, he signed the Travel Promotion Act into law, which gave the government a budget to promote itself to international travelers for the first time. A task force, created by last week’s executive order, will provide further suggestions for streamlining and improving the visa application process, identify potential impediments and help develop promotional strategies.