Bringing international visitors back

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The Visit U.S. Coalition is working to reverse America’s declining share of the global travel market.

by ROGER DOW

America’s share of the international travel market has shrunk over the last two years, from 13.6 percent in 2015 to 11.9 percent last year. That means U.S. destinations are missing out on millions of overseas visitors, and billions in additional travel spending.

International travel is America’s top service export and No. 2 export overall. In 2016, international travel pumped $245 billion into our economy, helping to fuel the 15.3 million American jobs that depend on travel. As many AAHOA members know, 84 percent of travel-related businesses are small businesses, providing employment opportunities across the economic spectrum. For the sake of American hotel workers – and indeed, millions of workers nationwide – the U.S. must do all it can to attract global visitors and reverse its declining share of the international travel market.

This decline in our country’s global travel market share is understandably anxiety-inducing for American travel business owners, and the problem is complex. Thankfully, AAHOA members are part of the solution.

The U.S. Travel Association, in tandem with AAHOA, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Hotel & Lodging Association and several other industry groups, recently launched the Visit U.S. Coalition. Our goal is to partner constructively with the Trump administration to send a message of welcome to the world while maintaining sound travel security, drawing on all we learned from America’s “lost decade” of tourism post-9/11 to ensure that such a prolonged period of hardship for the travel economy never happens again.

Our combined teams are actively engaging with the federal government to craft and advance policies that facilitate secure, efficient entry for legitimate visitors to the U.S. and to reiterate to the world that America is open for business. All of this, of course, will complement the highly effective global marketing efforts of Brand USA, which does not (and should not) engage in political advocacy.

Recently, the Visit U.S. Coalition released policy recommendations that we believe can help make America the most secure and the most welcoming destination in the world. These include:

Make attracting international travelers to the U.S. a national priority, particularly by supporting the promotion efforts of Brand USA, and designating a senior administration official to focus on international travel and tourism.

Expand intelligence-sharing partnerships and streamline a secure travel entry process – this includes helping more countries meet the criteria for Visa Waiver Program (VWP) membership (and renaming the VWP so that it accurately reflects the program’s security benefits).

Make America’s visa system more secure and accessible to international travelers through methods such as implementing better data-gathering standards, developing criteria for 10-year visa eligibility with qualified countries and increasing the number of visa processing facilities where needed.

Increase security and efficiency in travel screening processes at U.S. ports of entry. This can be done by promoting participation in trusted traveler programs like Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI and Preclearance, ensuring points of entry are properly staffed and adopting innovative screening technology.

The global travel market is increasingly lucrative but also increasingly competitive, and the U.S. continues to fall behind. If we had merely maintained our 2015 percentage share of this booming global market, the U.S. economy would have benefitted from 7.4 million additional overseas visitors, $32.2 billion in additional spending and 100,000 additional American jobs. Unfortunately, while global long-haul travel volume rose by 7.9 percent overall last year, international travelers are choosing other destinations worldwide over trips to America. Global market share is up for our top competitors, such as France, Germany, China and the United Kingdom. Spain has now surpassed the U.S. to become the world’s second-most-visited country.

AAHOA’s involvement in the Visit U.S. Coalition is a valuable first step to ensuring its members continue to reap all the benefits of healthy international visitation. The president, with his long business background, knows the value of a strong, welcoming brand. Regaining our country’s share of the international travel market won’t be easy, but the more people from around the world who come here and see exactly what makes America great, the more friends and allies we’ll have around the world.

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