Travel and tourism industry leaders last week told a Congressional panel that the United States still faces a daunting task in attracting international visitors.
Speaking before the House Subcommittee on Trade, Tourism and Economic Development on the “State of the U.S. Tourism Industry,” Jonathan M. Tisch, chairman, The Travel Business Roundtable and chairman and CEO, Loews Hotels, said that travel barriers to, and within, the United States continue to impede international traffic into the country. He pointed out that overseas traffic into the United States was down 16.5 percent in 2005 from its peak in 2000, when 51.2 million travelers visited the U.S.
In his testimony, Tisch said these travel barriers include the implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, visa and entry policy, the damage the Gulf Coast suffered as a consequence of Hurricane Katrina, as well as the poor image the U.S. enjoys internationally.
Tisch recommended that Congress grant an extension for WHTI and work closely with the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to effectively implement it; direct the State Department and DHS to work with travel and tourism experts to include customer service/hospitality training for its consular and customs services; appropriate one-time funding to the New Orleans and Mississippi Gulf Coast convention and visitor bureaus to promote the Gulf Coast as a travel destination that is “open for business;” and “appreciate travel and tourism’s immense potential as a vehicle for enhancing our image around the globe.”