From coast-to-coast, the U.S. travel and tourism industry is an essential driver of employment and economic growth, supporting 14.6 million American jobs and generating $855 billion in revenue annually. But the U.S. share of the international travel market has been shrinking for more than a decade. Our share of total international arrivals in 2012 was 6.4 percent, down from 7.5 percent in 2000.
Are we really laying out the welcome mat for international tourists and business travelers?
If we don’t draw the world’s visitors to our shores, they’ll go somewhere else. And then we’ll lose travel-related jobs, squander revenue, give up exports and forfeit economic growth. We’ll diminish America’s position as a global hub for commerce and innovation.
On the other hand, if we restore the U.S. share of the global overseas travel market to its 2000 level, we could create 1.3 million new jobs and generate $860 billion in economic activity. To do that, we must better promote the United States as a premier destination for business and tourism. And we need to make sure it’s not a hassle to come here!
Reducing inefficiencies in the visa application process is a good place to start. That’s why the business community is behind the Jobs Originated Through Launching Travel (JOLT) Act. The JOLT Act would update and expand the Visa Waiver Program, create a pilot program for conducting visa interviews through secure videoconferencing technology, allow travelers to expedite visa applications for a fee, and encourage timely and predictable application reviews.
We also need to improve the arrival process for world travelers. When they get to the United States, their first impression should be an easy and efficient entry process. U.S. Customs and Border Protection must have adequate staffing at U.S. ports of entry to cut down on wait times. Increasing participation in trusted traveler programs would also allow expedited clearance for more preapproved, low-risk travelers. This would help officials better allocate resources and keep up with processing demands.
Finally, let’s ensure the world knows exactly what America has to offer. We are blessed with some of the world’s most majestic landscapes, diverse cultures, and hospitable people. We are home to global centers in finance and technology, as well as millions of businesses and entrepreneurs engaged in international commerce. The business community continues to support Brand USA, a public-private marketing initiative to attract international visitors to U.S. shores.
Let’s make sure that when tourists are ready to travel and businesspeople are ready to make deals, they come to the greatest destination of all—the United States.
— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The opinions expressed are his own.