It’s been a busy few months in the realm of travel and tourism policy, so I wanted the chance to bring you up to speed on what’s going on, and I hope it will lead to measurable change in the way the United States welcomes overseas visitors. I’ve blogged about this before, and by now, you’re all probably aware of the problems. But, I’m glad to report, some solutions are in the works.
First off, Senators Amy Klobuchar and Roy Blunt held a hearing on visa and entry issues in April entitled, “Tourism in America: Removing Barriers and Promoting Growth.” They deserve major kudos for heightening Congressional awareness and demanding greater accountability from the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security. The hearing looked at travel issues from a new angle and it focused on the tremendous economic opportunities the travel and tourism industry holds.
The U.S. Travel Association has a plan to reclaim our 17 percent share of global long-haul travel by 2015, and this would generate an additional $859 billion in cumulative total economic output, creating more than a million U.S. jobs if we keep it up for 5 years.
How we can achieve this kind of success is outlined in their recently released report entitled, "Ready for Takeoff." They recommend 34 specific actions that Congress and the federal government can take to improve the visa processing system in some of our key markets, like China, India, and Brazil. Some of the recommendations that I think are “low hanging fruit” and need immediate attention are:
Better use of flexible staffing models and temporary staff dedicated solely to processing visas in very high demand markets. When we’ve got a big group checking into our hotels, we staff accordingly, and our government should do the same.
Next, expand the use of technology to improve website capabilities and explore videoconferencing for visa interviews. This makes the whole process simpler.
Third, revamp and enhance the Visa Waiver Program. More countries should not have to have visas for people coming to America.
We also reinvigorated the Discover America Partnership to advocate for action on the report’s findings, and I’m pleased that Marriott is on the steering committee for the partnership.
Improving America’s visa and entry policies creates economic opportunities at home and fosters wonderful good-will abroad; opening more doors to a world of opportunity for global travelers, who, hopefully, will visit our hotels.
I’m Bill Marriott, and thanks for helping me keep Marriott on the move.