Mayors Tell Feds to Improve Image, Boost Tourism
Entry visa policies and federal foreign policies in the United States post 9.11 have hurt the tourism industry in that country according to some city mayors. The Travel Business Roundtable surveyed 25 mayors from across the United States and the agency reported that while the number of overseas visitors peaked in year 2000 at more than 25 million, the figure shed some 7 million by year 2003 and held flat at about 21 million in years 2005 and 2006. The figures represent a cumulative loss of $100 billion, and $16 billion in lost city taxes.
The drop in visitors surprised the agency considering that during this time nearly all major currencies have improved against the weak dollar making a visit to the United States a 'bargain' vacation destination.
Mayors who answered the survey cited difficulty in obtaining a travel visa, more interesting travel destinations than the United States, and unpopular foreign policy in the United States as the top three reasons for decline in tourism. The mayors strongly suggested that improving the image of the United States abroad would boost tourism, and urged presidential candidates to make the initiative a priority in their 2008 campaigns.
“The facts are simple: Overseas visitors spend more time and more money in our country than do domestic travelers — and our visa and entry policies are driving them away. As this survey shows, the economic fallout of those policies is being experienced by our cities in unprecedented ways, and it’s time to make some important, positive changes,” said Jonathan Tisch, chairman of The Travel Business Roundtable.
The agency suggests the following solutions:
* Expand the Visa Waiver Entry Program — and “implement common-sense visa policy reforms, including the reduction of interview wait times and the use of advanced video technology for visa interviews.”
* Improve the way the U.S. welcomes overseas visitors — including “expansion of the model airports program, enhanced customer service training of U.S. Customs officials and implementation of an international registered traveler program.”
* Commit increased resources for marketing the U.S. as a desirable destination for overseas visitors. The U.S. is unique among nations in that it has no active promotion program to attract overseas visitors. Although some U.S. cities market themselves abroad, there is no national-level marketing program for America — a position that stands in sharp contrast to nations such as Australia, The United Kingdom, Spain, France, Canada and Japan, all of which operate expansive and successful marketing programs to attract international visitors.
"This study shows that mayors understand the challenges facing international visitors to the U.S. and what needs to be done to help," said Tom Cochran, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "Travel and tourism is essential to the health of the U.S. economy, most notably to America’s cities.”
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