U.S. entry and visa policies and unfriendly treatment of overseas visitors at the nation's ports of entry are driving overseas visitors away from the U.S., resulting in significant economic losses for American cities, according to an independent survey released today by the Travel Business Roundtable (TBR) and conducted by Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics Company.
TBR surveyed 25 U.S. mayors, including those from 19 of the top 20 visitor destination cities in the nation. Among its key findings were:
96 percent of mayors surveyed said the continuing decline in the number of overseas visitors to the U.S. is directly attributable to the difficulty of obtaining a U.S. entry visa, including excessive wait times, requirement for in-person interviews to obtain a visa, and non-refundable visa fees.
80 percent of mayors said 'uncertainty and unpredictability' of U.S. entry requirements is resulting in fewer overseas travelers visiting the U.S. Overall, travel to the top 15 U.S. destination cities is down 20 percent since the peak before 9-11.
76 percent of mayors said unfriendly treatment of overseas visitors by U.S. immigration officials is a major element in declining arrivals.
The TBR survey marks the first time that the opinions of U.S. mayors have been gauged on the subject of declining overseas travel to the nation's cities. Tourism revenues account for a significant amount of the operating budget of all large U.S. cities, including funding for emergency services, schools, roads and infrastructure.
In addition, overseas travelers account for a large portion of tourism dollars spent in the U.S. For example, in 2006, while only approximately 18 percent of visitors to New York City were from outside the U.S., they accounted for more than 45 percent of tourism dollars going into the city's coffers, according to NYC & Company, the city's convention and visitors bureau.
'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, a coalition of leading U.S.-based travel and tourism organizations.
In specific, TBR is joining the nation's mayors in calling on the Administration and Congress to do the following:
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. Travel and tourism is essential to the health of the U.S. economy, most notably to America's cities' said Tom Cochran, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. 'The Travel Business Roundtable survey released today is an important step towards highlighting the issues so that we can begin to implement common sense, yet vital improvements to the way we manage tourism in our country.'
The Travel Business Roundtable (TBR), a strategic partner to the Travel Industry Association, is a CEO-based organization representing all sectors of the travel and tourism industry. TBR's mission is to educate public officials and policymakers about the important social and economic contributions of the travel and tourism industry.
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