Speaking at the Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, Fla., on January 19, President Barack Obama announced new initiatives aimed at boosting the economy by increasing the number of international visitors who travel to the United States each year.

Many of the president’s proposals are aimed at making the visa process easier and less time-consuming, as well as speeding up the security-clearance process for frequent travelers. The initiatives call on numerous government agencies, including the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security, which have been charged with

  • increasing nonimmigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40 percent in 2012. To begin, the departments have announced a pilot program to simplify and speed up the process for certain applicants, including the ability to waive interviews for some very low-risk applicants.
  • ensuring that 80 percent of nonimmigrant visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of receipt of application,
  • increasing efforts to expand the Visa Waiver Program, which allows visitors from participating countries to travel to the U.S. for stays of up to 90 days without a visa. The Secretary of State has formally requested that Taiwan be considered for the program.
  • expanding trusted-traveler programs that can expedite travel (such as the Global Entry program). The president has announced that Global Entry, created as a pilot program in 2008, will now be permanent and four new airports will be added to the 20 airports now in the program.

In addition, the secretaries of the Department of Commerce and the Department of the Interior will co-lead a task force to develop a National Travel and Tourism Strategy. Working with BrandUSA (formerly the Corporation for Travel Promotion) and the Tourism Policy Council, the task force will work on strategies to promote visits to the U.S., in particular to the country’s cultural and historic sites, wildlife areas, and other iconic destinations.

The Department of Commerce has named all-new members to its U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board. The 32 private sector CEOs include Carol Wallace, president and chief executive officer, San Diego Convention Center Corp.; J. Stephen Perry, president and chief executive officer, New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau; Rossi Ralenkotter, president and chief executive officer, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority; and Kathleen Matthews, executive vice president, Marriott International Inc.

Leaders across the U.S. travel industry—from Ken Chenault, chairman and CEO of American Express, to Taleb Rifai, secretary general of the United Nations World Tourism Organization—have applauded the president’s announcement. “This is the first time our country has had a national strategy and set goals for the amount of visitors we want to welcome to our country,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “Not only will this increase traffic to America’s wonderful destinations and attractions, but nearly half of the travelers will come to attend conferences and trade shows.”

“President Obama’s speech echoes many points GBTA has made over the years, and we are pleased to see travel as a focal point in our national dialogue,” said Global Business Travel Association Executive Director and COO Michael W. McCormick. “The administration’s decision to expand the Global Entry program will make international air travel far more efficient for today’s business travelers.”

American Airlines’ Chairman and CEO Tom Horton also voiced his approval of all aspects of the plan. “The initiatives set forth and outlined today by the Obama administration will definitely benefit all who work in the nation’s travel and tourism industry, which can only add jobs and strengthen the economy,” he said. “President Obama is to be commended for his leadership in this effort.”