Daniel K. InouyeSenatorEncouraging international travelers to visit the United States is both economically and diplomatically beneficial to our country. As we know from experience in Hawaii, attracting visitors to the United States requires a great deal of investment in marketing and promotion.Travel and tourism is Hawaii’s number one industry and, the State actively markets to residents in countries around the world, including Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Germany.Most states, however, do not find it economical to devote large resources to international advertising. That is unfortunate, given the many natural and cultural treasures this country has to share. Travelers around the world would be willing and eager to spend more time visiting America, if they knew what we have to offer.In 2006, international receipts for travel-related tourism spending reached $107.4 billion. Travel and tourism exports accounted for seven percent of all U.S. exports and 26 percent of services exports last year. The travel industry is a driving force for the U.S. economy and its potential has barely been tapped.As an added benefit, tourism greatly advances international goodwill. Studies have shown that, after visiting the United States and interacting with Americans, 74 percent of visitors have a more favorable opinion of our country.This does not surprise me because, with all due respect to the State Department, Americans in their natural environment are among the best diplomats in the world.In recent years, however, the international reputation of the United States has suffered. America became a less desirable destination for international travelers as a result of the September 11th terrorist attacks.In addition, in the wake of the attack, the Administration tightened visa application and border entry procedures. Addressing national security is of paramount importance and we must protect our nation from terrorists. But some of the changes had the unintended consequence of deterring legitimate international travelers from coming to America.I was pleased that Secretaries Rice and Chertoff initiated the Rice-Chertoff Joint Vision in January 2006 to establish new procedures designed to facilitate travel without compromising security.Despite good efforts of both agencies, many in the travel and tourism industry continue to express concerns about the efficiency of the visa application process and the perception that the U.S. entry process is unnecessarily antagonistic.I am interested in hearing from the witnesses on the status of implementing the Joint Vision and their thoughts on the recommendations of groups such as the Discover America Partnership and the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board.
Byron L. DorganSenatorToday’s hearing is the second in a series of travel promotion hearings designed to examine how the United States can remain competitive internationally in the travel industry. Generating approximately 8.3 million jobs, the U.S. travel industry both serves as a major employer and constitutes an indispensable part of our economy. According to the Department of Commerce in 2006, international tourism spending in the United States comprised $107.4 billion. Despite these seemingly impressive numbers, the country has seen a decrease in market share of international travelers. In order to preserve this vital sector of our economy, we must work with expediency to reverse the decline.In the first travel promotions hearing, we heard from the private sector of the problems that the travel and tourism industry face today. The Discover America Partnership pointed to a complex visa application process, an intimidating and often bewildering experience for travelers at ports of entry, and a tarnished reputation around the world as factors that undermine international travelers’ desire or ability to visit our great country. In addition, the Partnership advocated for the creation of a nationally coordinated travel promotion initiative. An initiative that would both highlight destinations throughout America and inform international travelers about how best to navigate the U.S. visa and entry process.While in the past few years, the Commerce Department worked on limited promotions to Japan and the United Kingdom, the Department has lacked the resources to conduct a comprehensive and coordinated effort. I believe that a more aggressiveapproach is warranted. Since September 11th, the United States’ market share of international travelers has significantly decreased. The Commerce Department working in concert with industry experts should work to rebuild America’s place in the travel market.In doing so, we need not compromise our national security. We can strengthen security at our borders without closing our doors to friendly travelers. In addition, creating a more welcoming climate for new arrivals would be a boon to diplomacy.Travelers overwhelmingly leave this country with a better impression of America and its people. They take this goodwill back to their native land and raise the esteem of the United States overseas.In fairness to our federal agencies, the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security have not only recognized the need to improve the entry process via technological efficiency, but they have also created a framework for facilitating international tourism while maintaining national security. They have begun to implement the goals established in the Rice-Chertoff Joint Vision in a thoughtful way, but I believe that more work can be done.Today we will hear testimony from two panels of witnesses in considering how to attract more international visitors without jeopardizing our safety. The first panel consists of government representatives from the Departments of Commerce, State, and Homeland Security. The second panel consists of industry leaders from Hawaii, North Dakota, Alaska, and South Carolina. We will hear about their respective experiences in attracting visitors to their states and about how the federal government could better serve them.Based on the testimony we hear today and what we heard in the first hearing, I plan to introduce legislation to reinvigorate America’s tourism industry.
Witness Panel 1
Mr. Robert JackstaExecutive Director of Traveler Security and Facilitation, Office of Field OperationsU.S. Customs and Border ProtectionTESTIMONY OF ROBERT M. JACKSTAEXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, TRAVELER SECURITY AND FACILITATIONOFFICE OF FIELD OPERATIONSU.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTIONDEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITYBEFORETHE SENATE COMMERCE, SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION COMMITTEESUBCOMMITTE ON INTERSTATE COMMERCE, TRADE, AND TOURISMREGARDING“PROMOTING TRAVEL TO AMERICA:AN EXAMINATION OF ECONOMIC AND SAFETY CONCERNS, PART II”MARCH 20, 2007WASHINGTON D.C.Good morning Chairman Dorgan, Senator DeMint, and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee. I am pleased to be here today to discuss how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is moving forward on programs that will facilitate travel but still provide the level of security required to protect the United States. This is an enormous challenge. We have over 7,000 miles of shared borders with Canada and Mexico and 326 official ports of entry, and each day Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers must inspect more than 1.2 million passengers and pedestrians. Last year alone, CBP welcomed over 423 million travelers through our ports of entry. During fiscal year 2006, CBP processed a record 87 million passengers arriving from abroad by air, the second consecutive fiscal year the number of such passengers has exceeded pre-9/11 levels.As America’s frontline border agency, CBP employs highly trained and professional personnel, resources, and law enforcement authorities to discharge our priority mission of preventing terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States. CBP has made great strides toward securing America’s borders while facilitating legitimate trade and travel and ensuring the vitality of our economy.As part of our layered approach to border security, CBP operates several “trusted traveler” programs, including the Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI), Free and Secure Trade (FAST), and NEXUS programs. These bi-national programs facilitate the crossing of low-risk frequent travelers and commercial truck drivers at the land borders through exclusive, dedicated lanes. To enroll in these programs, travelers must provide proof of citizenship; a Border Crossing Card (BCC) or other visa, if required; and other identity documentation, such as a driver’s license or ID card. An intensive background check against law enforcement databases and terrorist databases is required and includes fingerprint checks and a personal interview with a CBP officer. Approximately 225,000 SENTRI, NEXUS, and FAST cards have been issued. SENTRI is now operational at the nine largest Southwest border crossings, and as of November 1, 2006, the Global Online Enrollment System (GOES) is available for SENTRI applicants. With GOES, SENTRI applicants may register and input their applications at a single location, the Williston Centralized Vetting Center. This centralized location will help facilitate increased accuracy and quicker processing time of SENTRI applicationsIn December 2006, enrollment in the NEXUS Air, Highway, and Marine programs was harmonized. As of February 2007, 119,861 members are now “in for one, in for all” and can cross the border using any of the three modes of transportation (air, land, and sea) at participating locations. These programs are implemented in partnership with the governments of Canada and Mexico, and many citizens of these countries currently participate in the programs.The standardization of travel documents is a critical next step to securing our Nation's borders and increasing the facilitation of legitimate travelers. Currently, there are thousands of different documents a traveler can present to CBP officers when attempting to enter the United States, creating a tremendous potential for fraud. In fiscal year 2006 alone, over 209,000 individuals were apprehended at the ports of entry trying to cross the border with fraudulent claims of citizenship or false documents. The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) is a joint effort by DHS and the Department of State to address this security vulnerability and increase traveler facilitation.The initial phase of WHTI went into effect January 23, 2007, obligating all air travelers, regardless of age, to present a passport, NEXUS Air Card, or Merchant Mariner Card for entry to the United States. The implementation of the air portion of WHTI was highly successful, with documentary compliance rates nearing 99.9% and no interruption to air transportation. This high level of compliance was due to the holistic and collaborative planning approach taken by DHS and the Department of State, starting well before the new rules went into effect. An aggressive public outreach campaign aimed at increasing awareness of the new documentary requirements was a critical first step, as was working closely with private industry and air carriers from the planning stages through implementation, in enforcing the new rules in a flexible and reasonable manner.As early as January 1, 2008, U.S. citizens traveling between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda by land or sea will be required to present a valid passport or other WHTI-compliant documents, as determined by DHS. As with the air portion of the WHTI requirement, we are taking a holistic and collaborative approach to implementing these new requirements. As an example, DHS recently announced its intent to propose, as part of the forthcoming Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on WHTI, significant flexibility regarding travel documents required for U.S. and Canadian children. This proposal, which will be subject to public comment as part of the WHTI NPRM process, would allow U.S. and Canadian citizens, ages 15 and younger and with parental consent, to cross the border at land and sea ports with a certified copy of their birth certificate as an alternative to a passport or other WHTI-compliant identity card. U.S. and Canadian citizen children, ages 16 through 18, traveling with public or private school groups, religious groups, social or cultural organizations, or teams associated with youth athletics organizations would also be able to enter, under adult supervision, with a certified copy of their birth certificate. This proposal does not affect the documentary requirements for air travel within the Western Hemisphere, as I have outlined earlier.In partnership with the private sector and State and local governments, DHS has introduced a pilot “Model Airport” program to ensure a more welcoming environment for foreign visitors. The pilot projects at the Houston Intercontinental Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport feature customized video messages for the public with practical information about the entry process, improved screening and efficient movement of people through the border entry process, and assistance for foreign travelers once they have been admitted to the United States. The Model Airport program is progressing as scheduled. By March 23, 2007, CBP will complete the customized video providing practical information about the entry process to arriving international travelers. Broadcast systems explaining the entry process to travelers while they are in the Federal Inspection Services (FIS) area will be installed and operational at the Houston Intercontinental Airport by April 2, 2007, and at the Washington Dulles International Airport by April 17, 2007. The directional signage and banners to guide travelers through the entry process have already been installed in the FIS area of both airports. New brochures explaining the inspection process to the public are being printed and will be made available in April 2007.The Model Ports concept document is complete and has been distributed to stakeholders. The Performance Measurements Committee, tasked with identifying recommendations to improve the international passenger arrivals process has met and is analyzing the collected data. CBP entry documents are currently being reviewed to determine the feasibility of document consolidation. In addition, CBP is in the process of reviewing the current professionalism initiative for enhancement measures, and Disney has expressed its desire to participate in the process. CBP is currently scheduled to meet with Disney executives on March 29, 2007, to discuss CBP’s current professionalism initiative process and conduct a walk-through to evaluate the CBP process in the FIS at the Orlando International Airport.The “Blueprint to Discover America Partnership” has been reviewed by CBP, and we are in agreement with its three main goals: a faster and more secure visa system, more rapid processing of passengers at airports, and the creation of a more welcoming environment for international passengers. The Rice-Chertoff Initiative, the DHS/State Department “Secure Borders, Open Doors” Initiative, the US-VISIT Program, and the Commerce Department’s Travel and Tourism Advisory Board (TTAB) have all focused on these same goals to improve the international traveler experience. Through various government initiatives, such as requiring e-passports for Visa Waiver Program (VWP) travelers, setting up Model Airports, and developing a “single portal” for transmission of passenger information, we are going a long way towards improving the air passenger experience. We support the fundamental objectives in the “Blueprint” to speed passengers through airports, to expedite visa processing and enhance security, and to make the travel experience more enjoyable. We will continue to work collaboratively and expeditiously towards meeting these goals.The DHS Travel Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP) is a single point of contact for individuals who have inquiries or seek resolution of difficulties experienced during their travel screening at transportation hubs--like airports and train stations--or while crossing U.S. borders. Difficulties such as denied or delayed airline boarding, denied or delayed entry or exit at a port of entry or border checkpoint, or continuous referral to additional (secondary) screening can be addressed through DHS TRIP. Travelers who have been repeatedly identified for additional screening can file an inquiry to have erroneous information corrected in DHS systems. Information provided by travelers is used solely to process their request for redress, and safeguards are in place to protect the privacy of any personal information provided.An effort similar to DHS TRIP is the Primary Lookout Over-Ride (PLOR), a systems upgrade created in February 2006 that benefits antiterrorism security measures as well as international travelers by alleviating additional screening procedures for individuals with the same, or similar, biographical information as watch-listed individuals. This system upgrade allows CBP officers at ports of entry to eliminate the need for secondary inspections on subsequent trips in cases where travelers’ names, birthdates, or other biographical information match those of high-risk individuals. This is only done once the CBP officer has verified that a particular individual is not the person of interest. It is important to note that PLOR does not involve the collection of any new data, does not create new databases or lists, and does not require any action on the part of the traveler. To date, this process has resulted in over 17,000 additional inspections being avoided – a significant savings in both processing times and operational costs.CBP collects biometrics on almost all non-U.S. citizens at the primary inspection area in our air and sea ports and at the secondary inspection in our land ports. Through the US-VISIT system, CBP checks individuals against a fingerprint-based watchlist of known or suspected terrorists, wants and warrants, immigration violations, and other criminal history information and verifies whether a person is the same one previously encountered by DHS and/or the Department of State. The US-VISIT Program has substantially added to CBP’s screening capabilities, enhancing our ability to process travelers in a timely and secure fashion. US-VISIT’s transition to a full ten-fingerprint collection system is paramount to further strengthening and expanding our screening capabilities.The Immigration Advisory Program (IAP) extends our zone of security outward by screening overseas passengers before they board aircraft destined for the United States. IAP teams identify high-risk and terrorist watch-listed passengers using the Automated Targeting System and use that information to advise airlines whether passengers should not be boarded on a flight to the United States. Since IAP became operational, 1,500 passengers have been prevented from boarding planes bound for the United States. Of those, nine were prevented from boarding flights due to security concerns – four were on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) No-Fly list, and five were the subject of TIDE records with sufficient derogatory information to support a refusal of admission. TIDE is the comprehensive terrorist database. In addition, 88 passengers attempting to travel with fraudulent documents were stopped, and 1,403 that were otherwise improperly documented were also intercepted. To date, IAP has saved CBP $2.26 million in processing costs and the airlines $2.21 million in fines.The Carrier Liaison Program (CLP) was developed to enhance border security by helping commercial carriers to become more effective in identifying improperly documented passengers destined for the United States. The primary method for accomplishing this mission is by providing technical assistance and training to carrier staff. Technical assistance includes publication and distribution of information guides and document fraud summaries and alerts. In addition, CBP is developing the 24/7 Carrier Response Center phone line to provide real-time entry requirements and document validity advice to carrier staff worldwide. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Forensic Document Laboratory (FDL) supports the CLP in multiple ways and provides FDL Document Alerts to the CLP for distribution to airline personnel. The CLP provides training on U.S. entry requirements, passenger assessment, fraudulent document detection, and imposter identification using state-of-the-art document examination material, equipment, and training tools. Training is delivered at U.S. ports of entry and at airports abroad by experienced CLP officers and is customized to meet the needs of specific carriers or locations based on performance analysis or emergent circumstances. CLP officers also assist carriers to develop and implement strategies to reduce travel document abuse. To date in FY 2007, CBP has completed 31 training sessions – 17 overseas and 14 at U.S. ports of entry – and over 1,900 airline personnel and document screeners have been trained. CBP has scheduled training at over 40 overseas locations and 30 U.S. ports of entry this fiscal year. For FY 2008, CBP anticipates training sessions at over 50 overseas locations and 30 U.S. ports of entry.In January 2005, CBP created the Fraudulent Document Analysis Unit (FDAU) to collect documents, provide ports with analysis of document trends and intelligence information, and target persons being smuggled into the United States using fraudulent documents. Between January and December 2005, the FDAU received 40,875 fraudulent documents confiscated at ports of entry and mail facilities. Working with the FDAU, CBP expects the seizure of fraudulent documents to increase.The Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) was developed in 1988 in cooperation with the airline industry as a voluntary program. This program established a system for the electronic transmission of passenger and crew biographical data by commercial carriers. Commercial carriers and the international community recognize APIS as a standard for passenger information processing and enhanced security. APIS information is a critical tool that allows CBP to target high-risk travelers while facilitating the progress of legitimate travelers through the entry and clearance process.On April 7, 2005, the APIS Final Rule (AFR) was published in the Federal Register, requiring the submission of manifest information by all commercial air and sea carriers arriving into or departing from the United States. Additionally, the AFR established the required data elements and timelines for manifest submissions. Pursuant to the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) of 2004, the CBP Pre-Departure Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) was published in the Federal Register on July 14, 2006. The NPRM proposed that commercial carriers transmit APIS manifest data prior to departure from, and arrivals to, the United States. The NPRM offered two options: carriers could continue to use the current manifest transmission format for submission, or carriers could start using APIS Quick Query (AQQ), where a single APIS message would be submitted as passengers check in. As part of the DHS commitment to establishing a common reporting process for carriers submitting traveler information, CBP has been working with TSA to align the CBP Pre-Departure requirements with the Secure Flight program. The APIS Pre-Departure Final Rule is undergoing final DHS and CBP review prior to submission to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).As reflected in the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza, the goals of the federal government’s preparedness and response to a potential pandemic are to stop, slow, or otherwise limit the spread of the pandemic to the United States; limit the domestic spread of a pandemic, and mitigate disease, suffering and death; and to sustain our infrastructure and mitigate the impact to our economy and the functioning of society. CBP must be prepared to maintain essential services, mitigate against the introduction, spread, and consequences of a pandemic, and protect our workforce and the public. CBP is working with our DHS partner agencies, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to develop effective and appropriate entry/exit procedures and travel restrictions during a pandemic.CBP officers are committed to the highest standards of professional conduct. We want to assist the millions of legitimate travelers who pose little or no threat in gaining proper entry into the United States, both safely and efficiently. As part of this effort, CBP recently implemented a campaign to educate travelers. Here are some of the best pieces of advice CBP can provide to travelers to help them have a safe, efficient and enjoyable trip abroad:First, travelers should be sure to declare everything they bring in from abroad, even if the item is bought it in a duty-free shop. All passengers arriving on a plane must complete a CBP declaration form. This declaration prevents the unintentional introduction of prohibited items, such as fruits and food products that could introduce devastating diseases and pests into the United States and severely damage U.S. agriculture. If items purchased abroad are intended for personal use or as gifts, they are eligible for duty exemptions. If they are intended for resale, they are not. If any duty is owed, a CBP officer will assist you in paying that duty.Second, travelers need to be aware that every food product, fruit, and vegetable must be declared to a CBP officer and must be presented for inspection. Many travelers look forward to bringing home special food items from abroad. However, it is important to "know before you go" which items can and cannot be brought into the United States from abroad. It is important to remember that the rules and regulations are in place to protect the American economy, plant and animal wildlife, and the health of the American people.Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee, I have outlined a broad array of initiatives today that, with your assistance, will help DHS continue to protect America from terrorist threats while fulfilling our other important traditional missions. But our work is not complete. With the continued support of the Congress, DHS will succeed in meeting the challenges posed by the ongoing terrorist threat and the need to facilitate ever-increasing numbers of legitimate shipments and travelers.Thank you again for this opportunity to testify. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Mr. Stephen A. EdsonDeputy Assistant Secretary for Visa ServicesU.S. Department of StateU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Trade and TourismSubcommittee on Interstate Commerce, Trade and TourismTestimony ofDeputy Assistant Secretary of State for Visa ServicesTony EdsonMarch 20, 200710:00 a.m.____________Chairman Dorgan, Ranking Member DeMint, distinguished members of the Subcommittee:I appreciate this opportunity to discuss how the Bureau of Consular Affairs is facilitating the travel of legitimate international visitors to the United States while vigilantly protecting U.S. border security for the benefit of Americans and our foreign visitors.Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice identified these objectives as part of the mission of the Department of State to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 8, 2007, when she said, “The State Department mission extends to defending our borders and protecting our homeland. We must strive to remain a welcoming nation for tourists, students and businesspeople, while at the same time increasing our security against terrorists and criminals who would exploit our open society to do us harm.”Together with our colleagues in the Departments of Homeland Security and Commerce, we strive constantly to strike the right balance between protecting America’s borders and preserving America’s welcome to international visitors and our fundamental openness to the world, which is the source of our strength and sense of ourselves.Secure Borders, Open DoorsThe context for all our efforts with regard to visa procedures continues to be September 11, 2001. On that terrible day, when so many Americans and citizens from 90 other nations lost their lives in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, we saw the lengths to which some would go to exploit our open society to do us harm. I think that all people of good will can appreciate that we had to act swiftly and decisively in the aftermath of 9/11 to address our nation’s border security needs.Since 9/11 the Department of State has instituted numerous changes to the way U.S. visas are processed. Some of these changes were instituted by law, others through the interagency process. Together, they legitimately aim to improve the security and integrity of the visa process for the benefit of both U.S. citizens and our international visitors.As we have implemented these changes to strengthen U.S. border security through the visa process, we have worked tirelessly to ensure that our visa process remains the beginning of a positive welcome to legitimate travelers. Security is, and must be, our primary concern, but welcoming international visitors is also a matter of national security. Foreign visitors accounted for $107.4 billion in spending and other economic activity in the United States in 2006, according to Department of Commerce figures. International students contribute an additional $13.5 billion each year to the institutions that they attend and the surrounding communities where they live and study.Beyond the financial benefits that are clearly good for our nation, we need to remain the welcoming country that the United States has traditionally been because of the intangible benefits of such a posture. It is essential that we provide visitors with a positive experience because that experience has incalculable influence in shaping impressions and opinions of our nation and our people. The best advertisement for America is America.Our policy of increasing the national security of the United States while welcoming international visitors is captured by the phrase “Secure Borders and Open Doors.” These objectives are by no means mutually exclusive; in fact, they are mutually reinforcing. We can, and must, achieve both. Meeting these two objectives presents us with management, resource, security, and public diplomacy challenges. We are proceeding aggressively yet deliberately, in order to get the balance right.Implementing the Rice-Chertoff Joint VisionIn January 2006, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security launched the “Rice-Chertoff Joint Vision: Secure Borders and Open Doors in the Information Age” as a commitment to striking that balance. This initiative aims to improve:· The efficiency, predictability, and transparency of the visa process;
· The security of U.S. passports and other travel documents; and
· The U.S. government’s ability to screen visa applicants and travelers who arrive at our borders.Our efforts to implement the goals and spirit of the Joint Vision began long before the formal launch of this plan. Over the past year we have made significant progress in advancing these objectives. Let me take this opportunity to highlight some recent achievements.Improvements to the Visa ProcessWe have made changes that enhance the efficiency, predictability, and transparency of the visa process and thereby facilitate international travel.We introduced an electronic visa application form, or EVAF, and mandated its use at consulates worldwide in November 2006. EVAF use reduces data entry errors, eliminates duplicative data entry, and increases the number of applicants whom consular staff can interview daily.
We introduced an Internet-based visa appointment system. All consular posts have placed appointment wait times online on our website at travel.state.gov, so that visa applicants have more information to plan their travel.Since 2001 we have created 570 new consular positions at posts worldwide to handle visa demand.Visa processing delays have been cut dramatically:
We have responded to suggestions from the business and academic communities and established mechanisms to assist student and business travelers, thus improving the welcome America provides to these key sectors:
- By fully automating the process and streamlining information sharing with other agencies, we have drastically reduced to two weeks in most cases the amount of time it takes to process security clearances. We are constantly working with our interagency partners to reduce this time frame while still meeting our legal obligations in this area.
- We have also established a process for individuals or their legal representatives to inquire through our public inquiries division about the status of clearance requests.
- All posts have established mechanisms to expedite visa appointments for legitimate business travelers, students, and international exchange visitors. We do not want students to miss the start dates for their planned study, or legitimate business travelers to have to forego a business meeting, because they could not get an appointment.
These efforts have produced results. We have “turned the corner,” and our metrics are positive across the board. Nonimmigrant visa issuances in FY 2006 rose 8 percent over the previous year, with business/tourist visa issuances increasing by 12 percent. We issued an all-time high of 591,000 student and exchange visitor visas in FY 2006. We have seen increases from every region in the world, but the numbers for some of our key business and travel markets are especially marked. For example, business/tourist visa issuance is up 12 percent for Indian citizens, 16 percent for Chinese, 13 percent for Koreans, and 70 percent for Brazilians.We have put the structures in place to ensure that the visa process is not the daunting ordeal that it is sometimes portrayed to be. Visa applications are up 5 percent worldwide. The growth in demand is explosive in some markets – for example, 17 percent in China and 30 percent in Brazil. Clearly, travelers still seek to come to the United States, and we are helping them get here while still ensuring national security.
- A Business Visa Center (BVC) located in the Visa Office explains the visa process to U.S. companies, convention organizers, and others who invite employees or current or prospective business clients to the United States. The BVC handled almost 2,800 requests from American businesses for information and assistance in cases involving over 139,000 business travelers in 2006.
- Many posts have imaginative programs – often organized in conjunction with local branches of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) – to facilitate business and tourist travel. For example, Consulate General Shanghai’s Corporate Visa Program (CVP) with AmCham Shanghai lessens the interview wait time for business applicants – most interviews take place within a week after application materials have been submitted – and establishes effective communication channels between AmCham and the Consulate General. Shanghai processed over 9,600 visas for nearly 500 CVP member companies through its program last year.
Secure Travel DocumentsAs part of the promotion of secure travel documents, the first phase of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) – that all travelers arriving in the United States by air present a passport or other approved document – went into effect on January 23. The overwhelming majority of arrivals from destinations that previously did not require a passport did in fact present a passport. DHS facilitated entry for the handful that did not. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reports 99 percent compliance with the passport requirement. This smooth transition was the result of aggressive outreach by the travel industry, foreign countries affected by WHTI legislation, and the Departments of State and Homeland Security, and is an excellent example of how government and the private sector can work together to facilitate international travel.The Department of State began issuing diplomatic e-passports on December 30, 2005, and official e-passports in April 2006. We began issuing e-passports to the public on August 14, 2006. All our domestic passport agencies have been fully converted to issue e-passports. Conversion of the two remaining mega-centers is forthcoming, pending sufficient blank e-passport inventory.We are also aggressively moving forward with the Department of Homeland Security on a “Model Ports of Entry” concept. Our goal is to ensure that international visitors’ positive experience continues from the time they make a visa appointment to the time they pick up their bags at baggage claim.While it does not directly relate to the Rice-Chertoff Joint Initiative, I want to take this opportunity to say a few words about the unprecedented demand by American citizens for U.S. passports. Applications received for the first five months of Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 are 44 percent higher than for the same period last year. Two key factors are driving this increase. January through April is typically the peak passport demand period, as travelers prepare for spring and summer holidays. In addition, the WHTI requirements created a surge in demand which began in November 2006.We see this higher demand as a positive development. Currently, 74 million Americans – approximately one-quarter of the population – are documented with a U.S. passport. As more of our fellow citizens obtain these secure documents, the more secure and efficient our nation’s borders will be. The Department of State is committed to ensuring that Americans will have passports when they need to travel.In anticipation of this high demand for passports, the Department of State hired more than 250 additional passport adjudicators in the past year and will hire an additional 86 this year. This month alone, 49 new passport adjudicators began work. The National Passport Center (NPC) is operating 24 hours a day in three shifts per day; all 16 passport agencies are working overtime to get passports out to applicants as quickly as possible. In April, the Department of State will increase its passport issuance infrastructure with the opening of a “mega-processing” center in Hot Springs, Arkansas, which will have the capacity to produce as many as 10 million passport books annually.Future Enhancements to the Visa ProcessThe Department of Commerce figures show that we experienced the highest number of international arrivals in 2006 since 2000 and project that 2007 international visitor levels, at 52.9 million, will surpass the 2000 record. Those figures are good news, and we welcome them. Yet we are still not satisfied. To continue to meet the demand for visas, to continue to keep our national welcome mat out, and to continue to facilitate legitimate international travel, we want to introduce additional enhancements.We plan to introduce several changes over the next two years. Many of these innovations – on which we have been working for many months – parallel suggestions made by the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board (TTAB), the Discover America Partnership, and others. Please allow me to describe these changes in detail.Reducing Visa Appointment Wait TimesFor those travelers who require a visa, the wait to get an appointment can impact short-term travel plans. Despite the explosive demand I described earlier, nearly 90 percent of our 219 visa-issuing posts currently have average wait times of 30 days or less, and at a large majority the wait time is less than one week.Many of the overall changes we’ve already introduced to streamline the visa process have helped to keep down wait times. We are employing customized solutions to tackle situations in particular countries with persistent and unacceptably high appointment wait times. In October 2006, for example, we sent a team of experienced current and retired officers on temporary duty to India to help the consulates there process a backlog of appointment requests, reducing wait times from over 100 days to less than 10. Since that effort, appointment wait times have begun to gradually increase again. We view this as a positive sign, indicating that visa applicants who might have in the past been deterred by the appointment wait time are now choosing to apply for visas. A fresh wave of temporary duty support is currently in India assisting posts to manage the continued heavy workload.“Surges” such as we employed in India can be useful in tackling short-term situations, and we may use them in other places. They aren’t a viable long-term solution in places with structurally high visa demand. We need to consider and implement other approaches.Aligning Consular Assets to Meet DemandWe must ensure that we have our consular assets appropriately deployed where we need them, so that we can provide consistent, timely, quality consular services to our clientele.After careful analysis of detailed workload figures submitted by posts, and considering other factors that impact workload and productivity, such as the fraud environment and physical plant, we have concluded that consular sections in several regions are understaffed to meet current and anticipated workload, while posts in other regions are overstaffed.To correct the imbalance, the Bureau of Consular Affairs plans to transfer approximately 30 consular positions from overstaffed to understaffed posts and create 22 additional positions. Most of these will be entry-level positions, although some mid-level positions will be included as well. There will be gains and losses at posts in all bureaus, but we anticipate net gains at certain posts in Asia and the Western Hemisphere – places like India, China, Brazil, and Mexico. Most of the transfers will come from European posts.We have begun this repositioning exercise and expect it to continue over the coming two to three years, in order to provide time to create the positions and identify suitable officers, ensure there is adequate space to accommodate new personnel, and minimize the disruption to posts that are identified for position transfers.We will open additional consular facilities in key countries. The Department of State has obtained funding to open a fifth consulate in Hyderabad, in southern India. A team led by Under Secretary for Management Henrietta Fore was in Hyderabad earlier this month to inspect the proposed site. We hope to be able to open a consulate in Hyderabad, to include the provision of visa services, in FY 2008.Technological ImprovementsThe Bureau of Consular Affairs exploits advanced technologies to automate consular processes wherever possible. This promotes security and efficiency by reducing or eliminating data entry, printing, shipping, storage, and filing burdens on our posts worldwide. Our strategy for meeting our visa demand challenges includes exploring how technology can provide consular officers with the information to make more rapid and accurate decisions and to collapse the distance between the consular officer and the traveler.Building on the successful and widespread use of the EVAF, we anticipate moving to an entirely paperless, electronic visa application process by the end of 2007.Current law and regulations require the incorporation of biometrics in all U.S. visas and the State Department meets this requirement by collecting two fingerprint scans from each visa applicant. The prints are verified against interagency databases to screen for terrorists and others who may be ineligible for a visa. Two fingerprint scans provide a limited amount of data, and our experience is that they yield a large number of “false positive” results, which can delay the visa process and inconvenience legitimate travelers. Ten fingerprints provide a greater number of data points and much more accurate responses, allowing us to more broadly screen individuals to better verify identity and ensure that the individual does not pose a risk to security prior to travel to the United States. We are piloting the collection of ten fingerprints at five posts (London, San Salvador, Riyadh, Dhahran, and Asuncion) and plan to deploy this technology at every post by the end of 2007.We are also exploring other technological developments, such as remote data collection and visa adjudication and interviews via digital videoconference. Pilot tests of remote data collection at several locations in the field (U.K, Germany, Japan, and Samoa) demonstrated that the technology is not yet fully mature. We must address technical issues concerning data transmission and security, as well as legal issues, before we are able to incorporate remote adjudication into a workable visa system.Similarly, although we have successfully tested interviews via digital videoconference between London and Belfast, there are considerable technical and security issues to resolve before we can consider wider application of this technology – including, for example, ensuring that the video image on the screen and the fingerprint data sent in remotely belong to the same applicant. We will continue to explore the possibilities of this and other technologies for our ability to provide remote visa services and for improving visa services overall.In February 2007 the Bureau of Consular Affairs established a worldwide customer service standard by which every nonimmigrant visa applicant at any post should be scheduled for an appointment within 30 days. The customer service standard for students and U.S.-interest business visas is 15 days or less. In addition, all applicants who are found eligible for a visa and who do not require additional security-related processing should expect the visa to be issued within three days of the interview.As I previously noted, we already meet these standards at the majority of our posts. Our goal is that by the end of 2008, 100 per cent of posts will be able to meet this 30-day appointment benchmark.To achieve this goal, posts have been instructed to conscientiously update appointment wait times. The Bureau of Consular Affairs will continue to monitor appointment wait times closely. We will work with posts that approach or exceed the benchmark to refine internal management practices and devise solutions, and we will consider the use of temporary duty assistance when warranted.Public Diplomacy: Dispelling MisperceptionsDespite the initiatives we have taken, despite the U.S. visa issuance and demand numbers, and despite the international visitor figures, there is still the perception in some quarters that the visa process discourages travelers from seeking to come to the United States. In some cases, that perception is borne of the small number of cases where travelers encounter real difficulties. In many cases, however, it is fueled by stories in the media which rely on outdated statistics or anecdotes that do not reflect current realities. I regret this very much, particularly given what has been done by my colleagues at the Department of State and at embassies and consulates overseas.We need to dispel misperceptions. We have been doing so with an aggressive public outreach campaign. Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Maura Harty has spoken to a number of business audiences over the past two years, and she takes every opportunity to reach out to international audiences during her official travel overseas. Most recently, she addressed the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce on March 5, and in February she spoke to the American Chambers of Commerce in Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Macau regarding our efforts to facilitate legitimate tourist and business travel to the United States. She has published letters to the Editor on the same subject which have appeared in outlets such as The Economist and the New York Times. We raise this important issue at every opportunity during our extensive domestic outreach program. Ambassadors and other officials lead our outreach efforts overseas, speaking to business and student groups and placing op-ed articles in local newspapers to encourage travelers to consider travel and study in the United States.We have also consulted closely with the travel community over the past three years to take their concerns into account and solicit suggestions on how we can improve the visa process without compromising national security. A “Secure Borders, Open Doors” Advisory Committee, composed of government and travel community representatives and established under the Rice-Chertoff Joint Vision, held an inaugural meeting on December 6, 2006, to devise strategies to get our message out to legitimate travelers: America wants you and we welcome you.Mr. Chairman, our efforts to facilitate legitimate travel to the United States while protecting the security of this nation will continue. Improving America’s welcome for foreign visitors, and countering lingering misperceptions about that welcome, will require joint efforts by both government and private stakeholders. We look forward to working with business groups and our partner agencies toward that goal. In the meantime, we will ensure that our welcome begins with an efficient, accessible, and secure visa process.
- By fully automating the process and streamlining information sharing with other agencies, we have drastically reduced to two weeks in most cases the amount of time it takes to process security clearances. We are constantly working with our interagency partners to reduce this time frame while still meeting our legal obligations in this area.
Mr. Jamie EstradaDeputy Assistant Secretary for ManufacturingDepartment of Commerce
Mr. Al Martinez FontsAssistant Secretary - Private SectorDepartment of Homeland Security
Witness Panel 2
Mr. Rex JohnsonPresident and Chief Executive OfficerHawaii Tourism AuthorityTestimony ofRex JohnsonPresident/CEO, Hawai‘i Tourism Authorityto theUnited States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and TransportationMarch 20, 200710:00 a.m.Russell Senate Office Building, Room 253Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. I am Rex Johnson, President and CEO of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (HTA), the official tourism agency for the State of Hawai‘i. IT has been my pleasure to serve Hawai‘i in this capacity for the past three years.For your information, I am also a member of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board (USTTAB), which serves in an advisory capacity to the Secretary of Commerce. In addition, I serve as secretary of the Western States Tourism Policy Council (WSTPC), a consortium of 13 western state tourism offices, that work together to support public policies that enhance the positive impact of tourism on the American West.On behalf of the State of Hawai‘i and the twelve other WSTPC member state tourism offices, I am pleased to be here today to provide testimony on opportunities to enhance and promote international travel to the United States. To clarify, my testimony will be composed of three parts.HTA’s Efforts to promote travel to Hawai‘iFirst, is the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority’s (HTA) efforts to promote travel to Hawai‘i. To begin, I would like to state the importance of tourism to Hawai‘i. Since 1976, tourism has been Hawai‘i’s number one industry. As the chief generator of employment in Hawai‘i, tourism currently provides about one in every four jobs in the State in direct travel-industry jobs or in indirect employment. Hawai‘i’s travel and tourism industry also produces $12.4 billion, or approximately 23 percent of the State’s Gross State Product, and contributes $1.3 billion tax dollars to the state and county government, or 23.2 percent of total state and county tax revenues.
From a marketing perspective, the HTA spends approximately $50 million annually in marketing programs designed to support a healthy tourism economy. The programs support advertising, promotion, public relations, trade relations and other marketing efforts in our major market areas of North America, Japan, Other Asia (excluding Japan), Europe and Oceania. Our efforts cover a variety of markets, including meetings, conventions and incentive travel in the business sector; weddings and honeymoons, leisure travel, cultural tourism, and other markets related to vacation travel. While Hawai‘i tourism in total generates $12 billion in visitor spending annually, international visitors contribute about $4 billion of this amount and account for approximately 32 percent of visitor arrivals.Unfortunately, the condition of Hawai‘i’s international tourism markets has weakened over the years, due in many respects to the issues outlined in the USTTAB white paper which I will talk about shortly and in the blueprint that has been developed by the Discover America Partnership. Travel to Hawai‘i from some international markets has fallen by 50 percent from their peak periods. These markets are strategically important to Hawai‘i because they provide a stability and diversity to our visitor industry base and support other sectors of our economy such as retail and entertainment.Federal efforts that would aid state tourismThat brings me to my second point and that is, what the federal government can do to assist state tourism. For one, maintaining and expanding the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is central to keeping the U.S. competitive for inbound international travel. Currently, more than two-thirds of all overseas travelers enter the U.S. under the VWP. Easing international travel into the United States would provide a significant benefit for Hawai‘i tourism. The expense and difficulty in obtaining visas has had a negative effect on markets such as Korea, and Taiwan, which have declined with the imposition of stricter travel policies. In this regard, we particularly commend the Senate for recently approving the recommendations of the leaders of this committee and other Senators and adding provisions to the 9/11 Commission Act, which will strengthen and expand the visa waiver program. We will be urging the House of Representatives to concur with these Senate provisions.Additionally, the negative experience of international visitors going through our security systems is a deterrent for some to travel to the U.S. According to a June 2006 survey of international travel agents, 77 percent believe the U.S. is more difficult to visit than other destinations. A recent survey by the Discover America Partnership revealed that international travelers believe that the U.S. has the “world’s worst” entry process. This perception creates a significant disadvantage for the U.S. in its efforts to compete for world travelers. However, with more efficient access to our country and hospitality training for our security professionals, travel to the U.S. will definitely be easier to promote.Recommendations made by USTTAB and theDiscover America PartnershipSince 1992, America’s share of the world travel market has fallen 35 percent, despite a healthy boom elsewhere. The price tag for this loss is staggering – about $300 billion in revenue over the last 15 years. In particular, since 2001, the U.S. has experienced a 17 percent decline in overseas inbound travel. In comparison, between 2004 and 2005, the U.S., witnessed a 10 percent decline in business travel while Europe experienced an 8 percent increase. As pointed out in the Discover America Partnership Blueprint, travelers from America’s top source countries are either declining significantly or failing to keep pace with sizeable increases in travel to other destinations. The gravity of the situation is more significant in light of a U.S. dollar that is 30 percent cheaper than it was five years ago.Please note, reports that say international travel to the U.S. is increasing are misleading. When you remove Canada and Mexico, and look solely at overseas travel, the number of visitors is declining – and it is doing so precipitously. According to figures from the Department of Commerce, in 2006 inbound travel declined from each of America’s top 5 markets.There are many reasons for this decline, including the increased and enhanced travel restrictions related to understandable homeland security concerns, as well as greater competition from destinations abroad for the international traveler. Another reason is the fact that the U.S. is one of the only industrialized nations in the world that lacks a nationally-coordinated program to compete for world travelers. Today, nearly every industrialized country in the world, with the exception of the U.S., has a nationally-coordinated program designed to promote its destination to international travelers.For example, Australia spends $113 million dollars a year communicating and promoting itself to travelers, while Canada spends $58 million. In comparison, the Travel Industry Association (TIA) estimates that all the combined states together spend about $25 million, but notes that many of the allocations are small. It is imperative that the U.S. implement its own nationally-coordinated public-private marketing campaign in order to be competitive with other countries in the dynamic new world market.A promotional program of this type could explain our travel policies to world travelers, highlight improvements in the process and invite millions more to enjoy the unique American experience every year.And that brings me to my final point – the need for the U.S. to develop a national tourism strategy to compete for a greater share of the growing travel and tourism market. That’s the intent behind the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board recommendations and the Discover America Partnership Blueprint. Together, these documents provide well-founded proposals to improve international travel to the United States that we fully endorse. The HTA, along with other state tourism offices and organizations, are especially supportive of a promotional program to establish a national image for the United States as a visitor-friendly destination, while supporting improvements to security and entry formalities that ease the ability of visitors to enter our country.Without the benefit of a program establishing a national brand to promote visitation to the United States, some of our uncoordinated spending on international marketing is dedicated to diverse branding programs that, in other countries, would be initiated and focused by a national ministry of tourism. If we had the support of a national promotional program as envisioned by the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board and the Discover America Partnership Blueprint, our efforts would be much more effective, since the national program would create a “visit USA” brand and a better selling environment.Importantly, the development of a national strategy as outlined above would be immensely productive for all states, including Hawaii. As an example, the programs that would originate from this strategy could include creating a brand for America that is not just friendly and welcoming, but is also consistent with Hawai‘i’s "aloha spirit".I would be remiss in not also emphasizing that another benefit of a nationally coordinated marketing program for international tourism would be to enhance theimage of the United States around the world. Nothing will more contribute to a positive view of our nation among the world’s citizens than the personal experience of visiting here, meeting face to face with our wonderfully hospitable and welcoming citizens and experiencing American culture and values first-hand. At a time when our nation’s international image has fallen to unprecedented levels, tourism could dramatically help reverse those attitudes.ConclusionIn closing, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. On behalf of the HTA and my colleagues in the travel and tourism industry, we look forward to working with you, the federal government and others in support of the 9/11 Commission Act and other legislation that will enhance the competitiveness of our nation in the global tourism market and help improve our international position.
Mr. David BorlaugPresidentLewis & Clark Fort Mandan FoundationTestimony of David Borlaug, President, Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan FoundationSubcommittee on Interstate Commerce, Trade and Tourism of theSenate Committee on Commerce, Science and TransportationPromoting Travel to America: An Examination of Economic and Safety ConcernsTuesday, March 20, 2007Thank you, Chairman Dorgan and members of the subcommittee for inviting me here today. It is an honor to represent the Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation and the State of North Dakota at this important hearing.Let me say at the outset that I join with other members of the travel industry in heartily endorsing the recommendations of the Discover America Partnership and the USTTA, which have been lobbying for the return of a centralized, government-endorsed promotional entity to provide leadership in attracting international visitors to the United States.The specific recommendations of the Discover America proposal, in particular, are well thought-out, prudent and will result in a very effective organization dedicated to promoting travel to our country. It is my fervent hope that these recommendations will be given serious consideration in the Congress. Thank you for thoughtfully considering these proposals.North Dakota, in spite of a tourism marketing budget that ranks among the lowest in the nation, has been promoting itself to the international market for the past 15 years. With our limited resources, we have focused on Scandinavian countries in particular and as a result, North Dakota is now among the top five destinations for all Norwegian air travel.Two weeks ago, North Dakota joined with our neighbors Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota, spending a week promoting the four state region to the travel industry of Denmark and Sweden. One of the ways that we are showcasing our region is comparing our geographic size, nearly 2 ½ times the size of Germany, with our low combined population—barley larger than Copenhagen.This is what those Scandinavian visitors want to hear, that we offer a land of beauty with National Parks and other tourist destinations unspoiled by the traffic and crowds to which they are accustomed. What they are seeking, and what we offer in North Dakota and the other prairie and mountain states is THE REAL AMERICA.Statistically, after foreign visitors have come to New York City, Disney World, Las Vegas or any of our other leading attractions, they are eager to see another side of our country. A land that spreads out in front of them on the blue highway with a vastness that takes their breath away. A land with more than terrific scenery, but incredible stories to tell. In North Dakota, we call it LEGENDARY. With Lewis and Clark, Sacagawea, General Custer, Sitting Bull and Theodore Roosevelt among our cast of legendary historic figures, you can see the attraction we offer foreign visitors, who are fascinated by the American West—the Real America.When you make the decision to create a new centralized entity to promote international travel, please include in its charter that it promotes ALL of the United States, not just those metropolitan areas which appear to have the greatest appeal. We ALL have something to offer those visitors, each in our own unique way.Not long ago, our Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, which operates the North Dakota Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and the reconstructed Fort Mandan, the Expeditions’ winter home of 1804-05, hosted travel writers from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and France, all within a 10-day period. These nations’ travelers are hungry for information about our special part of America, and writers and photographers keep coming back, because they just can’t drink it all in during one visit.My non-profit foundation cannot afford international marketing on our own. We rely on our state tourism division, which has a total budget of only $4 million a year. However, we have made the most of our limited resources, and by joining with a coordinated, national effort, we know that we can attract more and more visitors here.I was asked what specific areas the federal government may assist our efforts. Let me give you one request. The effectiveness of any marketing campaign is built upon good, solid research. We must know what our best target market is, to maximize the utilization of resources. States need to better understand the habits and intentions of international travelers once they arrive on our shores.For years, our industry has been asking Homeland Security for data which will tell us where foreign travelers are headed after they have entered the key ports of entry. This information is gathered, but not made available to the states. If we could simply get this information, where people are going after they have entered our gateways airports, this would be extremely valuable in knowing where to target our messages. We are not asking to compromise national security. We are not asking for names and addresses. This is not about tele-marketing. We just want the total numbers, by region. This seems a reasonable request for our industry to make, and one that I hope will be agreed upon soon.Thank you again for inviting me here today, and for your commitment to America’s travel industry.
Mr. Chad ProsserDirectorSouth Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation, and TourismTestimony of Chad ProsserDirector, South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & TourismChairman, South Carolina Council on CompetitivenessTravel & Tourism Cluster Activation CommitteeBefore theUnited States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and TransportationSubcommittee on Interstate Commerce, Trade and TourismMarch 20, 2007Good Morning Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss how the federal government might aid the states in growing America’s tourism industry. I am the Director of the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. Because of South Carolina’s coastline, freshwater lakes, mountains, and extraordinary culture, tourism is the state’s largest export. Tourism contributes more than $16 billion annually to South Carolina’s economy, accounts for 11 percent of the state’s employment and generates over $1.1 billion in yearly state and local tax revenue.South Carolina is not alone in the prominent role that tourism plays in our state’s economy. For many states, tourism ranks as one of the top three industries. Worldwide, tourism is the fourth-largest export industry after chemicals, automobiles and fuel. It is the largest service export, making up more than a 30% of world service exports and accounting for one out of every ten jobs around the globe. More importantly, tourism continues to grow steadily. Over a span of 25 years from 1975 to 2000, tourism grew by 4.6% per year compared with overall GDP growth worldwide of 3.6%. Tourism is a growing and healthy industry, but while the industry has continued to grow worldwide, visitation to the United States by overseas travelers has dropped 17 percent since 2001. This is particularly troubling given that outbound travel from many of our key overseas markets has increased, and the value of the dollar has decreased, effectively putting the United States “on sale” as a travel destination. For instance, outbound international travel from Europe grew by 3.2% last year. But travel from the United Kingdom to the United States declined by more than 3.7% from 2005 to 2006. The numbers are even worse for Germany, which is the second-largest overseas market for South Carolina after the United Kingdom. From 2000 to 2005 travel from Germany was down more than 20 percent. It is clear that not only is the United States not reaping the benefits of a growing international travel and tourism market, we are losing ground to emerging destinations and other competitors.How, then, do we explain this loss of trade in the context of increasing international travel and a cheap dollar, factors which should contribute to growth? Data from a 2006 survey of non-U.S., international travelers conducted for the Discover America Partnership show that it is neither the product nor the people of the United States that deter international travel. Interestingly, this survey shows that 72 percent of international visitors describe their time here as “great” once they get beyond the airport experience.According to the Discover America Partnership survey, the reasons we are losing ground in the international travel market are related to the lack of an inviting message to let potential visitors know that they are welcome in the United States, along with the confusing, difficult and sometimes hostile entry process. The survey shows that most visitors are more concerned about being detained or treated rudely by U.S. immigration officials than they are about the threat of crime or terrorism. They fear that they will be detained for hours because of a simple mistake or misstatement at a U.S. airport. They also perceive that the United States makes little effort to attract visitors and that the U.S. government does not want their travel business. I can tell you anecdotally from my own discussions with international tour operators and direct experience with international visitors that these are the primary deterrents keeping legitimate visitors away from our country.Visualize a local restaurant. Now, let’s assume that this restaurant does not advertise that it is open for business and it has no signage to indicate its location to potential customers. This restaurant also requires reservations, but has no one available to answer the phone when you call so it’s difficult to book a reservation. Additionally, when by chance customers come to the restaurant, the maitre d’ is rude and questions why the customers have come to his restaurant. This restaurant might have the best food in town, and it might even offer great service once you get past the reception desk, but with all of the obstacles on the front end it’s unlikely to have much business. This is the situation in which the United States finds itself today as a travel destination. In a world of choices we cannot afford unnecessary obstacles that hinder our ability to compete.So what is the solution? Here in our own country when travelers cross state borders they are greeted by state Welcome Centers. But when international visitors arrive at our airports, they are met by long lines leading to immigration desks. Of course immigration processing is necessary and security must remain of paramount importance; however, there are tools and techniques that Customs and Border Patrol agents could borrow from travel professionals to make the reception experience less unpleasant. Small improvements in process, appearance and customer service training could make a positive difference in the minds of visitors. Picture frontline immigration officers wearing a welcoming logo on their uniforms instead of a badge. Wouldn’t that help visitors to feel more welcomed? Would it remind the agents that part of their job is to treat visitors courteously? I’m certainly not suggesting that our Customs and Border Patrol agents become travel counselors handing out brochures and giving directions. But the job of ensuring that our borders are secure can be done with the same welcoming attitude and professionalism that is displayed daily by those who work in our state Welcome Centers.The Senate 9/11 Bill and the Rice-Chertoff Initiative are positive steps. Congress should continue its efforts to make the entry process more welcoming and efficient while closely monitoring how these initiatives are implemented on the front lines.In addition to making it easier for legitimate visitors to enter our country, America must work deliberately to communicate that we are open for business and that we welcome international travelers. Sharing with an international audience the things that make this country special serves both the economic and diplomatic interests of our country. I support the recommendations of both the Discover America Partnership and the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board to reestablish a nationally coordinated umbrella marketing program to enhance our national image and to ensure that American businesses can fully participate in the growing market for international tourism.Some have asked why a nationally coordinated marketing campaign cannot be launched without the participation of the federal government. It’s a natural question. I’m often asked the same question with regard to South Carolina’s umbrella marketing campaign. The answer is simple. The tourism industry, while it is a large industry in the aggregate, is made up of mostly small businesses. It’s highly fragmented. In fact, while you often see the CEO’s of major airlines or multinational hotel groups representing the industry, nationwide 90 percent of tourism businesses are small and medium-sized, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.In South Carolina half of the tourism industry is comprised of small businesses. Because the tourism economy touches so many dissimilar enterprises, ranging from small inns and restaurants to gas stations and farms that give tours to visitors to supplement their income, it is very difficult to coordinate these businesses for the purposes of a mass cooperative marketing effort. In fact, it would not make economic sense for these businesses to contribute to a national or international marketing campaign. It’s a great challenge even at the local level to coordinate the activities of these small businesses. Even among the large corporations or the state tourism organizations, there are not enough resources or common strategic interests to coordinate an umbrella marketing effort for the United States. South Carolina is a member of Travel South USA, which is the oldest multi-state tourism marketing cooperative in the country. But even with the combined strengths of the twelve states that comprise Travel South, we are only able to focus on a portion of one international market, Canada, with mostly publicity and promotional efforts supplemented with a small amount of advertising limited to the Greater Toronto area. When thousands of diverse small businesses are involved, only government can effectively represent their collective interests on a national or international scale. It’s a role that my department plays at the state level, and a role that the federal government should play at the national level.A fascinating parallel can be drawn to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Why does this agency exist? According to the SBA website, it exists to, among other things, “preserve free competitive enterprise and to maintain and strengthen the overall economy of our nation … building America’s future and helping the United States compete in today’s global marketplace.” These are the exact reasons that the federal government should be involved in a nationally coordinated international marketing effort. Such an effort would allow the tourism industry as a collection of small businesses to combine their strengths in order to compete in the international marketplace. No single business or trade association alone can accomplish this without the coordination of the federal government. Small businesses are the backbone of America and they are the majority of the tourism industry. These businesses can compete for international travelers, but they need federal cooperation to create a brand for America in the international marketplace.The predecessor agencies of the SBA were formed to respond to the special needs of small businesses following the Great Depression and World War II. During the Korean War, Congress created another organization to handle small business concerns. Do we not find ourselves in a similar predicament now in a post-9/11 world? I’m not suggesting that the structure of a nationally coordinated tourism campaign mirror the scope of the SBA. However, we do need national coordination in our effort to counter the challenges that we face in today’s global market for tourists.I’m not here to tell you that the sky is falling. In fact, South Carolina tourism is growing. Even our international visitation has seen modest growth over the last five years. In 2005, the last year for which data are available, South Carolina hosted more than 173,000 overseas visitors. As a state, two years ago we doubled our budget for international marketing. This increase was part of a strategic shift to attract more high-value visitors. International visitors are a particularly attractive market because of their long stays and high spending levels. South Carolina, however, is a second-tier market for most international visitors. We are a destination where international visitors come once they have visited New York City or the Florida theme parks. We have products such as golf, beaches and cultural experiences that are a very attractive to international visitors. But it is a real challenge for us alone to get that word out in a crowded global marketplace. Imagine how a small state like South Carolina could benefit if the United States once again had a nationally coordinated marketing effort to drive travel here and to let the international consumer know about the diversity of product available in our country.It is important to realize that by supporting a nationally coordinated marketing program you are not subsidizing the marketing budgets of large corporations in the travel industry. Instead, you are leveling the playing field for thousands of small businesses so that they can combine their strengths in order to compete in a global market for tourists. The tourism industry can survive without assistance from Washington. We have proved that over the last decade since the closure of the United States Travel and Tourism Administration. But the industry cannot thrive and reach its full potential without the federal government lending a hand to do for the industry what it cannot do for itself. The tourism industry must participate in any national effort; however, the impetus for the program can only come from our government. Upon closer examination, the U.S. tourism industry is not big business, it is a large industry made up of predominantly small businesses. Therefore, assistance to tourism is assistance to American small business.Unlike many mature industries, we have only scraped the surface of the potential for the U.S. tourism. The right to travel freely and safely has become a hallmark of American life and a cornerstone of our economy. Sharing that part of American culture with the world not only supports our diplomatic efforts abroad, but also works to strengthen economic prosperity at home.Mr. Chairman, thank you again for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you today. I would be happy to respond to any questions that you might have.
Mr. Ron PeckPresident and Chief Operating OfficerAlaska Travel Industry AssociationChairman, Vice Chair and Senate Commerce Committee, My Name is Ron Peck, I am President and Chief Operating Officer of the Alaska Travel Industry Association. I have served in this capacity for 4.5 years. I have been employed in the visitor industry for almost 30 years. ATIA is a broad based coalition of over 1,000 visitor related businesses. We represent large and small companies including B&B’s, fishing lodges, Cruise companies, Airlines, and day tour operators.We are a trade association acting as an advocate on land use, planning, and assessment issues. ATIA is not a government agency. We are a non profit service organization. Our other main mission is promote Alaska as a premier travel destination nationally and internationally. We do this on behalf of the state of Alas through an annual contract.Prior to 2000, three distinct organizations did advocacy work, and the destination marketing for Alaska. Two of those agencies were government entities and one was a trade association. Overlap and inefficiencies existed. Funding for destination marketing fluctuated drastically, declining from a high of $15M in 1990 to $7M by 2000.A new, unique and creative plan that involved both private and public sector involvement was implemented. Essentially the three organizations were dissolved. The state reduced the Dept. Of Tourism to an office and totally eliminated the second government agency. The former trade Association also also dissolved.The idea was to consolidate, be more efficient increase effectiveness. We believe that ATIA has done just that with this unique private / public partnership. We are also pleased with the level of private sector involvement. 35 Marketing experts volunteer from the private sector to create and develop the annual marketing plan that is then approved by the SOA and implemented by ATIA staff. Again the unique part of this relationship is that we have actually reduced government staffing levels, and increased the private sector involvement at no cost to the SOA.Funding for the program is done on a 50% 50% match basis, with the state contributing up to $5M, which allows for a Core Marketing program of $10M. Because of recent additional specific taxes on the visitor industry in Alaska, the funding model may need to change but the excellent working relationship between the public and private sector will continue.The success of our concept is proven and other states such as Washington have studied the ATIA model and they are considering implementing changes to their destination marketing efforts.Addressing International Travel - We as an industry fully understand the importance of keeping our country, our borders and our citizens safe from terror and violence. From the Alaska visitor industry perspective almost 250,000 (15%) of Alaska’s of 2006 summer visitors were International arrivals with the major countries of origin being Canada, UK, German Speaking Europe, Australia, Japan and Korea. International visitors are an integral part of the traveler mix to Alaska. We as an industry need to work diligently to make our great country as inviting and visitor friendly as possible. Some specific suggestions for your consideration:
Similar to Alaska’s model that blends the marketing promotion expertise and flexibility of the private sector with oversight from the government, such an effort could change misconceptions of the U.S.A., and bring more international visitors to America. Thanks to the Senate Commerce committee for this opportunity to present some of Alaska’s visitor experiences.
- Continue to work toward simplifying the Visa application and approval process. From first hand experience I have been made aware of the exhaustive and exasperating processes and steps that are involved in obtaining a visa.
- Expand the Visa Waiver Program – and consider including a larger number of countries such as South Korea.
- Improve Customs and Border processes by hiring the additional 200 officers in the recently passed legislation by the Senate. Thanks to vice Chair Stevens and Senator Inouye for their efforts in this regard. I believe that this specific action will help \alleviate perceptions that we are not a welcoming country to our international guests
- Consider developing an International Registered Traveler Program. Other countries have developed IRT programs that work to ensure security by focusing attention on lesser known travelers. A good example for Alaska is with Japan and the business traveler volume for commercial fishing related business between Japan and Alaska.
- Establish a public – private partnership focusing on global promotion tasked to market the U.S.A. as an great place to visit. We should also focus on communicating effectively to clearly explain U.S. policies as well as marketing the U.S. as a destination. One useful communication media specific vehicle of communicating that I believe should continue enhanced is the internet. In four short years with continued refinement and improvement our TravelAlaska.com site has more than doubled in the number of unique visitors. It has definitely enhanced our ability to sell Alaska to our visitors. I believe that the web can do likewise for our future international visitors.