WASHINGTON — An inter-agency government task force formed in January by President Obama to develop a national plan to promote domestic and international travel opportunities unveiled its blueprint and recommendations Thursday.
The task force, under “The National Tourism and Travel Strategy,” has established a broad goal of increasing the number of international visitors to the U.S. from a record 62 million in 2011 to 100 million by 2021. The task force estimated in the report that these visitors would spend $250 billion annually.
“Tens of millions of tourists from all over the world come and visit America every year,” Obama said. “They stay in our hotels; they eat at our restaurants; they visit our attractions, and they help create jobs. 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.”
Obama signed an executive order in January that seeks to dramatically reduce visa processing delays, increase tourism and create jobs in the U.S.
Major retailers and retail trade associations welcomed the move, which comes on the heels of their aggressive lobbying of the administration to ease visa rules so tourists can more easily visit the U.S. and spend their money on luxury goods and fashion items here. Delays in visa processing, especially in China and Brazil, had given an advantage to Europe as a destination for foreign travel.
Obama charged the State Department and Department of Homeland Security with increasing visa processing capacity for tourists from China and Brazil by 40 percent in 2012 and ensuring that 80 percent of nonimmigrant visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of receiving their applications.
The blueprint unveiled by U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Thursday outlined steps the government will take to accomplish its goals.
They include: launching a promotion campaign this year to increase international travel through the Corporation for Travel Promotion, doing business as Brand USA; reducing institutional barriers to the flow of trade in travel services; expanding the Visa Waiver Program and expediting screening initiatives; developing within the Commerce Department a national travel and tourism office to provide leadership and focus within the federal government, and conducting research and measuring the results.
The travel and tourism industry generated $1.2 trillion from domestic and international travel in 2011 and supported 7.6 million jobs — with international travel to the U.S. generating $153 billion in receipts and supporting 1.2 million jobs, the White House said. The Commerce Department recently released a travel and tourism forecast projecting that the U.S. can expect 4 to 5 percent annual growth in tourism over the next five years, and that 65.4 million foreign travelers will visit the U.S. this year alone.
“Encouraging foreign visitors to the United States is one of the easiest ways to boost our economy,” said Matthew Shay, president and chief executive officer of the National Retail Federation. “By streamlining our visa application and review process, we can increase international travel, tourism and trade, especially among emerging economies and markets like Brazil, China and India, and welcome more shoppers from our shores to our stores.”
Shay cited a U.S. Travel Association study that found that reducing visa wait times to 10 days could create 1.3 million jobs and add more than $850 billion to the economy by 2020.