“America is not a fortress and it should not be. It would be dangerous and costly to try to cut ourselves off from the world.”
Visa Waiver Program under scrutiny in wake of Orlando incident
Still heading to target of 100 million annual visitors by 2021
TSA Procedures examined, screening delays addressed
These are the words of Roger Dow, president and CEO of US Travel Association in response to recent global and domestic events.
Brand USA, the marketing arm of the US Travel Association has held the annual IPW (aka International Pow Wow) conference and expo for 48 years, while the association itself has been in existence in one form or another for 75 years.
This year’s event, held in New Orleans for the fourth time, is playing host to more than 1300 travel buyers and 500 media from 72 countries who are meeting with some 1000 US travel organisations and companies. I’m told around 100,000 appointments will be made, resulting in more than US$4.7 billion in future travel to the United States.
For readers who like numbers, media were reminded that an annual 75 million international visitors to US (and growing) spent $133 billion in 2015 while supporting more than a million jobs. The objective of Brand USA is to meet the target of 100 million by 2021, a goal set in 2012, requiring an annual growth of almost 5 per cent.
‘It’s fair to say the strong rapport between our industry and the U.S. government really kicked off in 1960, when President Dwight Eisenhower declared it the “Visit the U.S.A.” year,’ said national chair Todd Davidson, “We knew our relationship with the White House had durability when President John F. Kennedy launched the “See the U.S.A.” campaign in 1963. Our ties with U.S. commanders-in- chief only strengthened from there. We can count several significant moments for travel that were advanced by Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, among others.”
Predictably the question of a possible Donald Trump presidency and its likely effect on future tourism was raised at the press conference to which Christopher Thompson, president and CEO of Brand USA replied that he believed there was sufficient strength “in the DNA” of the organisation and its objectives to weather any likely ructions.
“The current administration, though, has been one of the strongest partners in our association’s history,” said Thompson.
Roger Dow added:
“This relationship with U.S. leaders is particularly critical in light of current events.
Travel often finds itself in a challenging position in the wake of events such as terror attacks in Paris and Brussels, when the Visa Waiver Program, one of our most valuable security and travel facilitation programs, came under intense. The VWP is tremendously important to the U.S., both for our national security, our economy and our diplomatic relations. Nearly 52 per cent of overseas visitors to the U.S. in 2015 arrived here under the VWP.”
“Now, unfortunately, there are scary things going on in the world that sometimes make us think twice about going about our daily lives, including travel. So if you take one thing away from my remarks today, it’s that this country needs to stay open and stay connected. There’s been no shortage of horrifying news lately, most recently with the attacks in Orlando.
“Our industry, this country and the entire world have been tested by similar scary stories. Terror attacks in San Bernardino, Brussels, Paris, Jakarta, Beirut and Istanbul. The spread of the Zika virus. The world is ever more connected and complex, but it’s impossible to insulate ourselves from risk. We must not retreat out of fear, but instead stay open, and stay connected.
“We stand our best chance to achieve security and prosperity when travelers, and indeed all of us, choose freedom over fear.”
These events have brought the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) under scrutiny.
Support for Brand USA’s operations comes from a combination of non-federal contributions from partner organizations representing destinations, travel brands and private-sector companies, and matching funds collected by the U.S. government from international visitors who travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. Funds from the VWP, in particular, make up a significant proportion of those funds.
“Nearly 52 percent of overseas visitors to the U.S. in 2015 arrived here under the VWP. These travelers generated $119 billion in economic impact for the U.S. economy and supported more than 780,000 American jobs,” said Dow.
“We aim to do this two ways. One, we want to expand a trusted traveler program that many of you may be more familiar with, Global Entry, which is run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
“Global Entry, like TSA PreCheck, allows pre-screened travelers to pass through special lanes for a much faster security process—it makes the entry or re-entry process into the U.S. much more pleasant. Additionally, we actively promote the expansion of CBP’s preclearance locations.”
For more information on IPW, see www.ipw.com
From Roderick Eime in New Orleans