Help Wanted: Foreign Tourists – No Experience Necessary11 Jan 2012
We have pointed this out before: international visitors bring a huge amount of revenues to this country – $134 billion in 2010, according to the U.S. Travel Association (USTA) – expenditures that directly support about 931,000 U.S. jobs, with total wages of $24.7 billion in 2010. (See: U.S. Travel Answer Sheet, U.S. Travel Association, July 2011.) Still, the U.S. travel and tourism industry has yet to recover from the steep decline in international tourism caused by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the strict new security measures that followed.
USTA notes that “The United States’ share of total international arrivals is 6.3% (down from 7.5% in 2000).” This is not surprising, considering that, according to USTA, the “greatest challenges facing international visitors” is the “burdensome visa process” and an “unwelcoming entry experience.” A recent article in USA Today underscored these findings, that many would-be visitors to the U.S. spend their holidays – and their money – somewhere else, to avoid the hassle of getting a U.S. tourist visa. (See: Can Foreign Tourists Help the U.S. Economy?, by Cristina Silva, Associated Press, in USA Today.)
Travel and tourism leaders complain that the government’s focus on security, pressing though it is, has often crowded out the legitimate business concerns of their industry. According to USA Today:
Tourism leaders said the decline in foreign visitors over the past decade is costing American businesses and workers $859 billion in untapped revenue and at least half a million potential jobs at a time when the slowly recovering economy needs both.
The article notes that although State Department authorities are working on the problem, it is difficult to reduce visa wait times significantly “as officials try to balance terrorist threats and illegal immigration with tight budgets that limit hiring.” The travel and tourism industry is asking Congress to revamp the tourist visa system to make it quicker, more user-friendly, and more welcoming.
According to USA Today, one proposal would add countries like Argentina, Brazil, Poland and Taiwan to the visa waiver list, which would allow their nationals to visit without having to go through the often-lengthy nonimmigrant visa process. Another proposal would allow applicants for tourist visas to fulfill the consular interview requirement through secure videoconferencing, to obviate the need for an in-person interview at a U.S. consulate – along with the time, inconvenience, and expense that go with it. No word on when these proposals might come to pass – but there’s no denying the strong economic rationale for making foreign tourism easier, and there’s no time like the present for making it so.