Rice wants USA to rethink visa rules to bring in tourists

20 April 2006
Rice wants USA to rethink visa rules to bring in tourists

Travel and tourism leaders have called for a radical overhaul of the USA's visa system to reverse the country's falling tourist numbers.

At the Global Travel and Tourism Summit in Washington last week, hospitality leaders called on the US government to make it easier for tourists to travel to the USA.

Although senior US government officials admitted the visa process was in need of a radical overhaul, Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, argued a balance was needed to ensure it was harder for terrorists to travel, but easier for tourists.

"We are doing everything we can to improve our visa policy. America heard the worldwide concerns and is responding," Rice said. "Our doors are now open but this is only the beginning; we have much more to do."

Rice added that encouraging travel to the USA post 9/11 was crucial for world diplomacy, as it "helps create international understanding".

Michael Chertoff, secretary for US homeland security, reiterated Rice's position: "We need safe but open borders. We must ensure we are secure but also friendly and welcoming."

However, US hospitality leaders warned the US government had to act quickly to encourage more tourists.

Bill Marriott, chairman and chief executive of Marriott International, said the Government needed to "focus on bringing down the barriers to travel", particularly in relation to emerging markets.

He pointed out that the current US visa system meant only 270,000 Chinese tourists visited America last year, out of 30 million Chinese travellers worldwide.

This, he warned, was causing the US tourism market to be on the periphery of the world's largest single emerging market.

Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, called for a $200m-$300m (£114m-£171m) marketing budget for the country.

"The US is failing because it is uncompetitive," Rasulo said. "We need secure boarders, while at the same time easing access to the USA. We need a wake-up call and a partnership with government."

John Tisch, chairman and chief executive of Loews hotels, said the USA needed a tourism minister. "Our industry is too important to continue to be ignored. We need to learn from Europe and we need to be more hospitable. If government doesn't listen, our 17 million workers must vote for a party that will."

Two improvements to the current screening system of air passengers are likely to be introduced soon. Micro-chipped passports carrying biometric data will be in place in early 2007 and a smarter screening system for US visitors to confirm identities is also in the pipeline.

Conference quotes
Ambassador Karen Hughes, government undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs "I want to wage peace. The more visitors travel to the USA and the more Americans travel abroad, the more peaceful the world will be."

Stephen Bollenback, co-chairman and chief executive, Hilton Hotels Corporation "If there is demand for eco-friendly products and they create a financial return then sure we'll do it, but we're responsible to our shareholders and if it costs more customers will have to pay more."

Stelios Haji-Ioannou, founder and chairman, EasyGroup "True innovation should be left to the private entrepreneurs."

Philip Wolf, president and chief executive, PhoCusWright hospitality research "Capitalism thrives on friction reduction and there is no better lubricant than technology."

Bill Marriott, chairman and chief executive, Marriott International "We need to demand comprehensive immigration reform or face being criminalised as employers. Our diverse workforce is what makes us strong."

Huseyin Baraner, president, European Turkish Tourism Council "There is a big invisible islamophobia and a worldwide misunderstanding of religion. Religion is never bound to terrorism - it's just terrorism."

Marilyn Carlson Nelson, chairman and chief executive, Carlson Companies "We can't rest on our laurels. Other countries are competing for market share and we need to change to compete. There is no room for arrogance, so much is at stake."

David McMillan, chief executive International Hotel and Restaurant Association "When a pandemic hits we need to be prepared within our communities for any incident."

By Emily Manson

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