Travel experts say burdensome visa requirements hurting economy
State tourism officials say easing visa requirements for overseas visitors could boost the Colorado ski industry.
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Tourism is expected to grow about 3.3 percent annually during the next two decades, with international arrivals passing the 1 billion mark for the first time in 2012, but the U.S. may not have as big a piece of the pie as it should.
Visa barriers for some nationalities are costing the U.S. millions of dollars per year, according to Colorado Tourism Office director Al White, who said the state is part of a national effort to lobby Congress and the U.S. State Department to ease the rules for travelers from countries like Brazil, as well as some Asian countries, where citizens some times have to wait nearly half a year to gain permission to travel to the U.S.
White said Brazil is a good example of the problem. Some studies suggest Brazilians drop an average of $4,000 per person during a trip, making them some of the spendiest tourists on the international marketplace these days — Yet some Brazilians have to wait up to 143 days for a visa.
“It has a real chilling effect on travel to the U.S. It’s costing us millions,” White said.
China is also becoming a major exporter of tourists, and that country’s citizens also face barriers to travel, not only in their own country, but from the U.S. State Department.
White said he understands the need of the U.S. government to balance economic issues with security concerns, but said State Department should take examine ways to ease travel. Just a small percentage increase in the number of tourists visiting the U.S. from China could be a huge economic boon, he said.
According to White, Colorado’s entire Congressional delegation is aware of the issue and is part of the behind-the-scenes effort to work with the State Department and the tourism industry to resolve the issues. One option is for Congress to step in, but the State Department could easily lift the visa restrictions for certain countries.
Vail Resorts is also part of the Discover America Partnership with U.S. Travel Association and other travel industry leaders.
“As a member, we are committed to advancing the recommendations of the partnership to educate policymakers and opinion leaders on the economic significance of international leisure and business travel to the U.S., highlight the barriers that prevent the U.S from maximizing its potential in the global travel market and present solutions,” Vail Resorts spokesperson Amy Kemp said via email.
“We feel as if we, as a country and as an industry, can and should implement simple actions to help international travelers navigate the visa system in a more efficient and timely way thereby making travel to the U.S. a more viable and attractive option,” Kemp said. “It’s critical not just for our employees and our resorts but also for our communities to sustain and create tourism jobs through efforts to promote international visitation.”
Easing the restrictions could create as many as 1.3 million jobs and add $859 billion to the U.S. economy by 202, according to the U.S. Travel Association, which last spring proposed a plan to increase staffing, reduce visa interview wait times and expand the visa waiver program.
The association believes that, between 2000 and 2010, the United States lost the opportunity to welcome 78 million more visitors that would have generated $606 billion in direct and downstream spending – enough to support more than 467,000 additional U.S. jobs annually over these years.
The tourism industry continues to outpace the rest of the economy on a global basis. About 43 million international tourists are joining the marketplace each year. By 2030, about 5 million people will be crossing international borders for leisure, business or other purposes every day, according to a report from the World Tourism Organization released during the organization’s recent 2011 general assembly in Gyeongju, Republic of Korea.
A large proportion of the arrivals of the next two decades will originate from the countries of Asia and the Pacific, growing at a rate of 5 percent a year and generating an average 17 million additional international arrivals every year.
Europe follows with an average 16 million extra arrivals a year, resulting from a much more moderate growth rate of 2.5 percent a year, but on top of a much larger base. The remaining 10 million additional yearly arrivals are generated by the Americas (5 million), Africa (3 million) and the Middle East (2 million).
International arrivals in emerging economy destinations are expected grow at double the pace (4.4 percent year) of advanced economies (2.2 percent a year). In absolute terms, the emerging economies of Asia, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, Eastern Mediterranean Europe, the Middle East and Africa will gain an average 30 million arrivals a year, compared to 14 million in the traditional destinations of the advanced economies of North America, Europe and Asia and the Pacific.
By 2015, emerging economies will receive more international tourist arrivals than advanced economies, and by 2030 their share is expected to reach 58 percent.
Asia and the Pacific regions will see the biggest growth in the market share, taking a 30 percent slice of the pie by 2030 (up from 22 percent in 2010). The Middle East and Africa will also see their market share grow, while Europe and North America may see their percentage of market share dip.
By 2030, North East Asia will be the most visited subregion in the world, representing 16 percent of total arrivals and taking over from Southern and Mediterranean Europe, with a 15 percent share in 2030.
“Nevertheless, alongside this opportunity, challenges will also arise in terms of maximizing tourism’s social and economic benefits while minimizing negative impacts. As such, it is more important than ever that all tourism development be guided by the principles of sustainable development,” he added.
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Filed under: business, Colorado, economy, Summit County news, tourism, Travel Tagged: | State Department, Tourism, Travel, United States, Vail Resorts