Discover America Partnership Promotes Travel on Capitol Hill

The Discover America Partnership (DAP) convened in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 4 in order to host a legislative briefing for Congressional staffers promoting the benefits of international travel to the U.S. economy, it announced last week.

A coalition of business and travel industry stakeholders that was activated this year to rally around the issue of visa reform, DAP's members include the U.S. Travel Association, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Representatives from those and other organizations were joined at last week's legislative briefing by the co-chairs of the Senate Tourism Caucus, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who stressed the importance of removing barriers to inbound international travel.

"The international travel industry has grown by 40 percent over the past decade," said Blunt. "Unfortunately, America's share of the international travel market has remained stagnant — in part due to our country's visa policies. Tourism is an important industry for states like Missouri, which is why I support efforts to reestablish our country as a leading international travel destination. By streamlining our visa processing system without jeopardizing our nation's security, we can help spur economic development and job creation in Missouri and across America."

Added AH&LA President and CEO Joe McInerney, "Travel and tourism present an incredible export opportunity for the United States. Our country remains a draw to travelers from around the world, but our restrictive travel policies are preventing them from spending money on our shores. We need to recognize the economic and diplomatic potential these visitors represent and act accordingly."

In 2010, travel supported 1.8 million U.S. jobs and accounted for $134 billion in spending, according to DAP, which said America's visa policies have deterred many more potential visitors, costing hundreds of thousands of jobs and deepening the recession. While the number of global long-haul travelers increased by 61 million from 2000 to 2010, DAP pointed out, the number of overseas visitors to the United States stayed flat.

In response, DAP has suggested a series of recommendations, including:

Making visa offices responsive to demand: By placing more consular offices where potential travelers are, a greater number of visas can be processed, according to DAP, resulting in more international travelers to the United States.

Reducing visa interview wait time to less than 10 days: Visa processing has been up to 145 days in Brazil and 120 days in China — two of the most important emerging travel markets, according to DAP.

Expanding the Visa Waiver Program (VWP): Laying the groundwork to expand the VWP to countries such as Poland, Brazil, Chile and Argentina would allow lucrative international travelers, DAP argues.

These actions would help the United States recapture its historic share of international travel, according to DAP, creating up to 1.3 million U.S. jobs by 2020 compared with 2010 and producing $859 billion in cumulative additional economic output.

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