Travel-tourism fo­rum ad­vises US to ‘ loosen’ visa re­quire­ments

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By AMY HE in New York

amyhe@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

With the num­ber of tourists to the United States ex­pected to in­crease in the next decade, the US needs to make it eas­ier for vis­i­tors to get visas, ac­cord­ing to a re­port from a travel fo­rum.

The World Travel & Tourism Coun­cil (WTTC) said that al­though the US has made visa pol­icy changes in the last few years that have led to an in­crease of tourists from China and Brazil, visas are still re­quired for many na­tions and the ap­pli­ca­tion pro­ce­dure for a visa can be “gru­el­ing.”

“Any steps to loosen visa re­quire­ments will en­cour­age more people to visit and we fully sup­port the US mak­ing im­prove­ments in this di­rec­tion,” the Lon­don-based WTTC said in its re­port.

As coun­tries com­pete for tourists from bur­geon­ing mar­kets like China and In­dia, “in­vest­ment in pro­mo­tional ac­tiv­ity for Brand USA needs to con­tinue so that these vis­i­tors choose the US over other des­ti­na­tions,” said WTTC pres­i­dent and CEO David Scowsill in a state­ment.

Travel and tourism con­trib­uted to $1.5 tril­lion to the US econ­omy in 2013, which was 8.4 per­cent of GDP, and is ex­pected to rise an­other 3.1 per­cent this year, the WTTC said. In 2013, tourism di­rectly sup­ported 5.4 mil­lion jobs in the US, and in­vest­ments in the US travel and tourism sec­tors to­taled $145.7 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the WTTC.

Of travel and tourism’s con­tri­bu­tion to the coun­try’s GDP, spend­ing by for­eign vis­i­tors ac­counted for 20.2 per­cent, and do­mes­tic travel spend­ing was 79.8 per­cent, the WTTC fig­ures showed.

“It is clear that the growth in travel and tourism de­mand from emerg­ing mar­kets continues with pace, as large ris­ing mid­dle classes, es­pe­cially from Asia and Latin Amer­ica, are will­ing and more able than ever to travel both within and be­yond their borders,” the WTTC said.

In 2012, Gary Locke, then the US am­bas­sador to China, an­nounced plans to sim­plify the visa process for Chi­nese tourists.

Lip­ing Cai, di­rec­tor of Pur­due Univer­sity’s tourism and hos­pi­tal­ity re­search cen­ter, said tourism is not a ma­jor US con­cern com­pared to na­tional se­cu­rity.

“Na­tional se­cu­rity will con­tinue to be a pri­or­ity for the US. I don’t see a new na­tional pol­icy that will sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease the num­ber of tourists com­ing into the coun­try,” Cai told China Daily.

“Al­though there has been in­creased co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the govern­ment and the tourism sec­tor, I haven’t seen a lot of big moves. I haven’t seen a lot of con­gress­men united to say ‘Let’s set the in­ter­na­tional tourism as a pri­or­ity for our for­eign trade,’” he said. “Ul­ti­mately if na­tional se­cu­rity is­sues are pre­sented, tourism will yield to na­tional se­cu­rity.”

The de­sir­abil­ity of the US as an ul­ti­mate travel des­ti­na­tion is also less­en­ing, par­tic­u­larly over the last few years, as Chi­nese tourists re­con­sider the coun­try as the “ul­ti­mate model of pros­per­ity,” ac­cord­ing to Cai, who has writ­ten pa­pers on Chi­nese tourists, tourism and hos­pi­tal­ity ex­pe­ri­ences.

“I think this is a com­bi­na­tion of many things. In the last five years, the US has re­tracted eco­nom­i­cally. Also, so many Chi­nese have been to the US that when they re­turn, some of them say, ‘Well, the US is a lit­tle shabby. The high­ways are not as beau­ti­ful as ours, the air­ports are so old.’ This is the huge con­trast,” he said

But Renee Hart­mann, co­founder of con­sul­tancy China Lux­ury Ad­vi­sors, said that she found the op­po­site to be true.

Her com­pany works with businesses to de­velop their strate­gies both in China and for Chi­nese who travel in­ter­na­tion­ally. She said that tourism to the US is pre­dicted to in­crease more than that of other coun­tries. For Chi­nese in par­tic­u­lar, school­ing and real es­tate op­por­tu­ni­ties are huge draws, she added.

“We’ve seen the US be­com­ing even more as­pi­ra­tional than be­fore, and tak­ing some of the shine away from Europe,” she said.

AMY HE / CHINA DAILY

Tourists at an in­for­ma­tion kiosk in Man­hat­tan’s Chi­na­town, a tourist hotspot in New York City. The World Travel & Tourism Coun­cil said in a new re­port that in or­der to re­main com­pet­i­tive, the US should con­sider loos­en­ing visa re­quire­ments to at­tract more tourists from over­seas.

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