Reflecting on the 10-year anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, U.S. Travel Association President and Chief Executive Officer Roger Dow unveiled his organization’s ideas for how U.S. government agencies can strengthen security and encourage travel in, and to, the U.S.
“No industry was perhaps impacted more by 9/11 than the travel industry,” said Dow, speaking at an August 25th press conference. “It changed the way Americans travel.” Since the terrorist attacks, security measures have been adopted to keep Americans safe, but they have also increased traveler hassles, Dow said.
The past decade has been a “lost decade” for U.S. travel, said Dow. While global long-haul travel grew 40 percent from 2000 to 2010, overseas travel to the U.S. rose just 2 percent. Consequently, the U.S. share of the global travel market dropped from 17 percent in 2000 to 12 percent in 2010. Also, the volume of business travel dropped 21 percent from 2000 to 2010 because of the impact of the September 11th attacks and the meetings crisis in the late 2000s. If America had kept pace with the growth in global long-haul international travel, 78 million more people would have visited the U.S., adding $606 billion to the U.S. economy and supporting more than 467,000 additional U.S. jobs annually, said Dow.
America needs to learn from the past, said Dow. “We have to build the most secure and efficient travel system in the world,” he said. “We must continue keeping travelers safe with the highest level of security, but we must incorporate principles that improve facilitation and encourage travel.”
Dow believes these three strategies will get the U.S. travel industry back on track:
Reduce traveler wait times. “Travelers deserve predictability. The Transportation Security Administration should employ technology and resources to process travelers through checkpoints [in less than] 10 minutes at all major airports, including at peak times,” according to the U.S. Travel document that outlines these principles, “2011-2012: Building the World’s Most Secure and Efficient Travel System.” The wait times for international arrivals to go through customs should be 20 minutes or less. Also, visa wait times should be reduced to 10 days or less. Currently, wait times in countries like Brazil, China, and India can take up to 145 days. A recent study by the International Association of Exhibitions and Events found that long visa wait times precluded 116,000 people from attending U.S. meetings in 2010.
Improve customer service. “The high customer-service standards and best practices of the hospitality industry” should be used to train TSA agents and customs officers. Customer comments and complaints should be tracked, and metrics should be developed to monitor improvement. Also, consular Web sites should be standardized and more user-friendly. And, videoconferencing should be used to conduct visa interviews in markets where demand is high and consular offices are few and far between.
Eliminate a one-size-fits-all approach to security. Replace it with a system that focuses resources on the highest-risk passengers. This means establishing a nationwide Trusted Traveler program that allows U.S. citizens to submit biometric and background data to enable an alternative security experience, expanding the Visa Waiver Program to include more countries, streamlining the visa renewal process by waiving the interview requirement, and expanding the Global Entry program.
“Let’s move forward to regain a share of the visitation we once enjoyed,” said Dow.