Overseas visitors to the United States spend more and stay longer than other travelers, spending an average of $4,000 per person, per trip. The United States welcomed two million fewer overseas visitors in 2007 than it did in 2000 - despite an extraordinarily weak U.S. dollar and an additional 35 million long-haul travelers worldwide.
"Adding friends and allies to the Visa Waiver Program strengthens U.S. security, boosts America's vital public diplomacy efforts and stimulates U.S. economic growth," said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the Travel Industry Association. "TIA worked closely with the U.S. government to enact reforms that allow for VWP expansion with enhanced security measures, and we are pleased to see them take effect."
The VWP allows citizens from participating countries to travel to the United States for business or pleasure for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. Starting today, travelers from seven new countries--the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta and the Republic of Korea (South Korea)--can travel to the United States without first obtaining a tourist visa.
"While today's expansion will benefit the economy, we still have a long way to go to regain the millions of travelers we have lost since 9/11," said Dow. "As the dollar gains strength and we experience a global financial downturn, the United States needs a clear strategy for welcoming more visitors in a highly competitive environment."
Additional expansion of the VWP to qualified countries could come to a halt in 2009 if the Department of Homeland Security does not deploy a biometric system for confirming the exit of foreign visitors departing the United States. TIA strongly supports the exit requirement and is working with the entire travel community to devise a secure and efficient solution.
Travelers under the new VWP countries must register before traveling through the new Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), as part of new security procedures established for the expansion. ESTA is an automated system used to determine the eligibility of VWP visitors to travel to the United States and whether such travel poses any law enforcement or security risk. Travelers from all visa waiver countries will be required to participate in ESTA as of January 12, 2009.
The ESTA program is a relatively simple and effective way to strengthen U.S. security, and that of international travelers, while at the same time helping to preserve the VWP program. The travel community has called on the Department of Homeland Security to implement ESTA in a way that will not create unnecessary barriers to travel, such as informing foreign visitors about ESTA requirements through a large-scale education effort and increasing convenience by providing alternate means for travel authorization that are not Internet-based and are part of a typical travel-booking process.
The Travel Industry Association is the national, non-profit organization representing all components of the $740 billion travel industry. TIA is proud to be a partner in travel with American Express. For more information, visit www.tia.org.
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