THE chairman of the US Travel Industry Association (TIA), Jay Rasulo, has suggested a new three-step plan that will both strengthen America’s security and help repair its image in the eyes of potential travellers abroad.
The plan, called A Blueprint to Discover America, aims to welcome more international visitors to the United States. This is something at which America has been losing competitiveness for many years, Rasulo said in an address to more than 500 US tourism industry leaders at TIA’s 15th annual State of the Travel Industry Luncheon.
Overseas travel to the US is down 17 per cent since 2001, with business travel alone down 10 per cent from 2004 to 2005, according to TIA.
“This isn’t a sweeping overhaul of our travel policies,” he said. “It is, rather, a set of common sense solutions to adapt to the way that people are travelling today. It’s using new technology and proven processes to make travel easier and more secure at the same time.”
The Blueprint to Discover America was unveiled the same day by the Discover America Partnership, a coalition of some of America’s foremost business and travel industry leaders dedicated to help the U.S. better compete for international visitors. Rasulo, who is chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, was instrumental in helping found the DAP last September and in creating the blueprint announced today.
“The plan we now have in hand is the single most important document our industry has ever created,” Rasulo said. “Its fulfilment is the single most important action we can undertake as an industry.”
Rasulo noted that the programme presents an attractive return on investment. “We can implement the plan for about $300 million a year,” he said. “That’s a very low investment considering the high returns we’ll generate: billions of dollars added to the economy and tax revenues, and hundreds of thousands of new jobs. The return is so good, that we can’t afford not to make the investment.”
Among the blueprint’s recommendations:
• Overhauling the country’s visa system to improve security and process potential visitors more quickly. The plan calls for visa applications to be processed within 30 days and suggests methods to reduce the obstacles and barriers associated with the visa interview process, including videoconferencing and mobile consulate operations. The plan also calls for strengthening the Visa Waiver Program by expanding the security information required and the number of countries that can participate.
• Modernizing and securing ports of entry where visitors are welcomed. The plan calls for visitors to be processed within 30 minutes by hiring 250 new customs and immigrations officers. It also calls for turning the nation’s 12 busiest inbound airports into world models through enhanced line management, automated forms and traffic management processes, and an expanded use of technology.
• Change perceptions of America that are turning away travelers. Create a comprehensive plan to improve perceptions of America in target countries, and building an effective program structure based on a public-private partnership, with a dependable funding stream.
The plan comes as Congress takes a growing interest in the US travel issue, and the US Senate Commerce Committee recently held hearings to investigate this growing problem. More information at www.poweroftravel.org
TIA is the US national, non-profit organization representing all components of the $703 billion travel industry. Its mission is to represent the whole of the U.S. travel industry to promote and facilitate increased travel to and within the United States.