To improve America’s image abroad and increase international travel to the U.S., the Discover America Partnership—a coalition of U.S. hospitality industry leaders—unveiled a three-part plan last week called Blueprint to Discover America. The plan, which would cost $300 million per year to implement, calls for improving the visa process, modernizing and securing points of entry, and changing negative perceptions of travelers.
Since September 11, 2001, overseas travel to the U.S. has declined 17 percent, according to the Travel Industry Association of America. Stevan Porter, president, The Americas, InterContinental Hotels Group and chairman of the Discover America Partnership, in a statement, said America’s “travel crisis … hurts our economy, national security, and standing.” The plan has received support from key lawmakers in the U.S. Senate.
To improve the visa system, the partnership recommends several measures, including: processing visa applications within 30 days; reducing obstacles in the visa interview process (including utilizing videoconferencing); expanding the number of countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program; and improving the U.S. Visit program with an exit-tracking system.
To modernize and secure points of entry, the plan calls for hiring 250 customs and immigration officers at top airports to process all international travelers in 30 minutes or less. In addition, it recommends developing an international registered traveler program, enhancing the top 12 inbound airports to become “world models” of efficiency, and improving customer service and evaluating officials on how they treat foreign guests.
Finally, the partnership suggests creating a comprehensive plan to improve perceptions of America in target countries.
DAP members Porter; Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts and chairman of Travel Industry Association of America; and Jonathan Tisch, chairman of Loews Hotels, testified before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on February 1 during a discussion of America’s image abroad. Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, D-N.D., chairman of the commerce committee’s subcommittee on Interstate Commerce, Trade and Tourism, pledged to develop legislation aimed at implementing the DAP plan.