I’ve blogged before about how beneficial the Visa Waiver Program is to the United States travel and tourism industry. But, it also helps a lot of other industries in our country, including all the restaurants and retail that rely so much on international travelers. The Visa Waiver Program allows low-risk countries and travelers to visit the United States without the hassle and the expense of getting a visa -- and it's a great stimulant for our economy.
I was just in Hawaii and was very pleased to learn that this beautiful U.S. destination has benefited greatly from the program. Many international visitors to Hawaii come from Eastern Asia, and in the past, citizens of several of these countries had to get visas before their trip, which was a real problem. However, in November of 2008, South Korea was added to the list of countries that no longer require a visa to enter our country, allowing the state department to reallocate those resources in other areas.
Since then, we have seen a tremendous increase in the number of South Korean visitors to the U.S. mainland and the Hawaiian Islands. In fact, since joining the program, the number of Korean travelers visiting the United States jumped 49 percent and Hawaii has gone up by 69 percent. This increase has had numerous benefits including bolstering the local economy, and has benefited the airline industry as both Hawaiian Airlines and Korean Air have had to add more direct flights to meet the growing demand. If this isn’t convincing evidence about the importance of the Visa Waiver Program, I certainly don’t know what is.
I implore the U.S. government to continue the process of adding countries to the list. Brazil is a great candidate and the Administration can start formal inter-governmental dialog, so Brazil and others can make progress towards meeting the requirements as soon as possible. Congress can help too by enacting the Secure Travel and Counterterrorism Partnership Program Act. It is bipartisan legislation introduced by our Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski and Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, which updates the Visa Waiver Program framework.
Welcoming more visitors to the U.S. is low hanging fruit for economic and job growth, and greater utilization of the Visa Waiver Program can play a big role.
I’m Bill Marriott and thanks for helping me keep Marriott on the move.