It's good to see President Obama reads our Front Desk blog and Editor Ed Watkins (Tourism: A Winning Platform in Presidential Politics). It's even better to see the president finally take action on an issue that will not only help travel, tourism and the hotel industry, but also the entire economy. The executive order and tourism initiative announced by the president Thursday in Orlando's Disney World could bring 1.3 million jobs to the U.S. and produce $859 billion in economic output by 2020.
Those numbers, courtesy of the Discover America Partnership co-chaired by the AH&LA, would be reached if the U.S. recaptured the historic share of international travel it had in 2000. The order from the president charges the Department of Commerce, working with the Departments of State, Homeland Security and a slew of others, with creating a task force to develop a strategy to promote unique U.S. destinations and experiences, reduce wait times for visas in countries like China and Brazil and make the U.S. Global Entry program permanent.
U.S. market share of spending by international travelers fell from 17% to 11% in the decade since 2000, in large part because of international competition and more stringent security requirements since 9/11. Reforming the current and antiquated visa system is the first step to regaining those travelers. The president's goal is to increase visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40% in the next year, to ensure 80% of nonimmigrant visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of applying and to expand the Visa Waiver Program and reciprocal recognition efforts like the Global Entry program.
All of that can be done with very little cost and without jeopardizing the security of this country. It's a win-win situation, and one hotel leaders have been shouting about for years. It's about time. Let's hope the president and his task force can get the job done, because there are plenty of rooms available, as well as people looking for work.