World / China-US

Travel-tourism forum advises US to 'loosen' visa requirements

By Amy He in New York (China Daily USA) Updated: 2014-03-14 15:01

Travel-tourism forum advises US to 'loosen' visa requirements

Tourists at an information kiosk in Manhattan's Chinatown, a tourist hotspot in New York City. The World Travel & Tourism Council said in a new report that in order to remain competitive, the US should consider loosening visa requirements to attract more tourists from overseas. Amy He / China Daily

With the number of tourists to the United States expected to increase in the next decade, the US needs to make it easier for visitors to get visas, according to a report from a travel forum.

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) said that although the US has made visa policy changes in the last few years that have led to an increase of tourists from China and Brazil, visas are still required for many nations and the application procedure for a visa can be "grueling."

"Any steps to loosen visa requirements will encourage more people to visit and we fully support the US making improvements in this direction," the London-based WTTC said in its report.

As countries compete for tourists from burgeoning markets like China and India, "investment in promotional activity for Brand USA needs to continue so that these visitors choose the US over other destinations," said WTTC president and CEO David Scowsill in a statement.

Travel and tourism contributed to $1.5 trillion to the US economy in 2013, which was 8.4 percent of GDP, and is expected to rise another 3.1 percent this year, the WTTC said. In 2013, tourism directly supported 5.4 million jobs in the US, and investments in the US travel and tourism sectors totaled $145.7 billion, according to the WTTC.

Of travel and tourism's contribution to the country's GDP, spending by foreign visitors accounted for 20.2 percent, and domestic travel spending was 79.8 percent, the WTTC figures showed.

"It is clear that the growth in travel and tourism demand from emerging markets continues with pace, as large rising middle classes, especially from Asia and Latin America, are willing and more able than ever to travel both within and beyond their borders," the WTTC said.

In 2012, Gary Locke, then the US ambassador to China, announced plans to simplify the visa process for Chinese tourists.

Liping Cai, director of Purdue University's tourism and hospitality research center, said tourism is not a major US concern compared to national security.

"National security will continue to be a priority for the US. I don't see a new national policy that will significantly increase the number of tourists coming into the country," Cai told China Daily.

"Although there has been increased cooperation between the government and the tourism sector, I haven't seen a lot of big moves. I haven't seen a lot of congressmen united to say 'Let's set the international tourism as a priority for our foreign trade,'" he said. "Ultimately if national security issues are presented, tourism will yield to national security."

The desirability of the US as an ultimate travel destination is also lessening, particularly over the last few years, as Chinese tourists reconsider the country as the "ultimate model of prosperity," according to Cai, who has written papers on Chinese tourists, tourism and hospitality experiences.

"I think this is a combination of many things. In the last five years, the US has retracted economically. Also, so many Chinese have been to the US that when they return, some of them say, 'Well, the US is a little shabby. The highways are not as beautiful as ours, the airports are so old.' This is the huge contrast," he said

But Renee Hartmann, co-founder of consultancy China Luxury Advisors, said that she found the opposite to be true.

Her company works with businesses to develop their strategies both in China and for Chinese who travel internationally. She said that tourism to the US is predicted to increase more than that of other countries. For Chinese in particular, schooling and real estate opportunities are huge draws, she added.

"We've seen the US becoming even more aspirational than before, and taking some of the shine away from Europe," she said.

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