Dow: A welcome boost for U.S. tourism

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President Barack Obama's decision to speed-up visa processing for low-risk Chinese and Brazilian travelers will give the recovering U.S. economy a welcome jolt of new energy this summer and beyond.

The president's executive order, which he announced at Disney World earlier this year, is projected to create 1.3 million jobs and produce more than $860 billion in economic activity.

The first wave of new Chinese and Brazilian business and leisure travelers could come early this summer, given the demand at the five U.S. consulates in China and the four in Brazil.

The president also would eliminate the need for citizens from Taiwan to obtain a visa -- a privilege already afforded to travelers from Australia, Japan, South Korea and 33 other American allies.

From 2000 to 2010, the U.S. experienced a lost decade when it came to attracting international visitors to our country. The United States issued 7.6 million visas in 2001 but only 5.8 million in 2009. That number grew to 6.4 million in 2010 but is still lower than it was 10 years ago. The president's new initiative to spur job creation by welcoming more global travelers to our country can help put the United States back on top as the world's No. 1 destination.

The United States has long been a favored vacation spot for Brazil's growing middle-class, but long lines and lengthy waits can act as a detriment that persuades many to flock to nearby Caribbean islands or pay more to go to Europe. That said, the number of travelers from such full-throttle economies as Brazil, China and India is expected to grow by 274 percent, 135 percent and 50 percent respectively over the next four years. Faster visa processing will help ensure that many of those travelers will come to America.

Additionally, President Obama's decision to make permanent the Global Entry Program will also encourage more visitors to come to the United States. The program makes the customs process more efficient for travelers who pass rigorous advance background checks.

Americans should rest assured that speeding up our tourist turnstiles does not mean relaxing post-9/11 security measures. The fact is that our surveillance and security systems, and the technology that buttresses them, have become increasingly sophisticated over the last decade. Making the entry process more efficient for highly trusted travelers allows our nation's security force to concentrate on more likely suspects and expands its overall effectiveness.

In short, the president's moves should be hailed as a smart new national strategy that will increase travel not only to America's many attractions, but also to commercial events like trade shows and business conferences.

As President Obama noted in Orlando, the new proposals mean that "America is open for business" once again -- a strong measure that can help jumpstart our economic recovery in 2012.

Considering their economic impact, international travelers -- in increasing numbers -- are about to become some of America's best friends in 2012.

Roger Dow is president and chief executive of the U.S. Travel Association. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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