US missing the boat on global tourism boom

Increasing the nation's share of the international travel market will require the removal of self-imposed post-9/11 obstacles.

By Bruce Kennedy May 9, 2013 9:00AM

San Francisco © Kim Steele/Digital Vision/Getty ImagesTravel, both domestic and international, is an important economic engine in the U.S. But analysts say that engine has been slowing for about a decade as travelers, especially from overseas, have dealt with post-9/11 security and transportation issues.

In testimony before Congress earlier this week, Roger Dow, the president and CEO of the nonprofit U.S. Travel Association, pointed out the industry's importance to America's financial well-being and its "enormous" potential for continued growth.

"In all 50 states, travel provides good domestic jobs that cannot be outsourced," Dow told a House subcommittee. "In 2012, direct travel spending in the United States totaled $855 billion, which generated a total of $2 trillion in economic output and more than $129 billion in tax revenue."

He also noted that the travel industry directly employed 7.7 million Americans and was one of the top 10 employers in 48 states and Washington, D.C.

And while the sector took its share of economic hits during the recession, Dow says, it has so far restored 85% of the jobs lost during the downturn, compared with 69% for the rest of the economy.

The most lucrative part of the travel segment, according to Dow, is long-haul, overseas travelers coming to the U.S., staying an average of 18 nights and spending nearly $4,500 per trip. "Millions of global citizens are now traveling abroad," he testified, "and for every 33 overseas travelers who decide to visit the U.S., an additional American job is created."

But the U.S. lags in its share of the international travel market, even as global tourism booms. Dow noted America took less than 13% of that market last year, compared with 17% in 2000.

"Had we just kept pace with the global long-haul travel market over the last dozen years," he lamented, "the U.S. would have seen 98 million more overseas arrivals, bringing an additional $722 billion in spending, which creates $49 billion additional tax revenues -- and most important, 42,500 more American jobs."

Improving the U.S. share of the international travel market means overcoming what Dow described as "self-imposed" obstacles, in particular by promoting travel to America while streamlining entry into the country for legitimate travelers, "without in any way compromising security."

Those changes, he said, are underway because of several developments. Three years ago, Congress passed the Travel Promotion Act, which created a public-private partnership between the government and the U.S. tourism industry, known as Brand USA.

In addition, Dow said, the U.S. State Department has significantly reduced wait times for visa interviews in many high-demand nations. He also pointed to the success of the Visa Waiver Program. Already in use by at least 35 nations, it allows citizens of participating countries to travel to the U.S. without a visa for stays of 90 days or less, "in return for stricter security protocols between our two nations."

And Dow asked the lawmakers to support the newly introduced Jobs Originating through Launching Travel Act in the House and the inclusion of its provisions in the Senate immigration bill. Along with expanding the VWP, the JOLT Act would reduce visa processing delays and promote travel to the U.S. during low peak travel seasons.

But key to these programs' success, he said, is making entry into the U.S. less of a grueling ordeal for travelers. "In other words: If we fix it, they will come," Dow said.

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May 9, 2013 9:36AM
Come to Chicago, see if you can make it out alive!!!
May 9, 2013 9:26AM
yep - USA - the next new steady career is hotel-motel worker.  we've come full circle to just being a tourist trap now.  forget manufacturing, etc.  it's all casinos and night clubs now baby!
May 9, 2013 9:36AM
We are becoming more like Obama's homeland every day the incompetent @$$ remains in office. Just a tourist attraction.
May 9, 2013 1:45PM
No one from any terrorist or associated country should be allowed in this country for any reason. For our true friends, we need to ease up on the requirements. Biased? I don't give a damn.

After one experience with the american way to greet you at the port of entrace you   will say "never again ". Dogs will smell you , zombies will stamp ypur pasport after ascking 1.2 million questions. Your bagage will be checked and rechecked and half of it will be thrown to the garbage .And do not forget to fill up the list  of things you can't take  in USA. , the 3.5 hours of waiting in line berfore you have a chance to get to the finish line (bathroom).

May 9, 2013 4:11PM
There is also grave concern on the part of the international traveler for his personal safety, especially in big cities. The US ranks high in the crime statistics compared to Western Europe, Russia, and even Turkey.
May 9, 2013 9:37PM
We need to spend more money on our national parks. How is it the oil companies got 3 billion in tax breaks and subsidies, while the national park service only has 2.75 billion to work with?
Yosemite and Sequoia were loaded with foreigners here spending their money when I was there.
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