Ken Hyatt is the Acting Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade.
2012 was a record year for travel and tourism in the United States. The industry generated $168.1 billion worth of U.S. exports, an impressive 10 percent increase over 2011, and supported 7.7 million jobs. Recognizing this sector’s potential to continue driving job growth, President Obama last year called for the creation of a National Travel and Tourism Strategy. Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of the Strategy’s release.
The Strategy, co-led by the Departments of Commerce and Interior, is a comprehensive, government-wide approach to increase travel and tourism to and within the United States. Since its introduction, more than a dozen partner agencies have coordinated to enhance tourism promotion efforts, improve the visa application and entry experiences, and collaborate with the private sector – including BrandUSA – and state and local destinations in various ways. These and other activities are aimed at attracting 100 million annual visitors by the end of 2021, a 61 percent increase over 2011.
The Strategy is already bearing fruit. Two examples I would like to highlight are:
- Our partners at the Department of State are expanding their consular facilities and streamlining their visa processes. As a result, nine out of ten visa applicants worldwide are now interviewed within three weeks of submitting applications. In some key markets, wait times have fallen to only a few days even as the number of applications increases.
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have launched programs to reduce screening and entry processing times for domestic and international passengers alike. CBP’s Global Entry program is now available at 44 airports, while TSA’s Pre Check is present at 40.
Improvements like these have made the visitor experience better without compromising our security. While we take pride in successes like these, we recognize that more work remains to be done, especially given economic headwinds and fiscal challenges in some of the countries that send visitors to our shores.
Our nation offers domestic and international visitors a wealth of amazing tourism experiences. Those visitors, in turn, spend hundreds of billions of dollars right here in the United States and contribute to our national efforts to create jobs here at home. I invite you to review the Strategy as we celebrate National Travel and Tourism Week (May 4-12) and let us know how your community can play its part.