Meeting Mentor Magazine

December 2021

International Visitors

Despite Strong Inbound Travel,
Entry Process Remains a Deterrent

As meeting groups look beyond U.S. borders in hopes of drawing more international attendees and exhibitors, the country is seeing record levels of inbound travel. These visitors, however, face considerable obstacles in navigating the entry process, which will cost the economy $95 billion (and 518,000 U.S. jobs) over the next five years, concluded a report by U.S. Travel Association. Just standing in line instead of traveling costs the U.S. economy $416 million and 3,700 jobs. At the same time, a letter to members of Congress from U.S. Travel with 69 signatures of travel, hospitality and meeting chief executives highlighted the findings.

While U.S. Travel lauded the work by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), it made a strong case for “additional resources to make the [entry] process work more effectively.” These include hiring more CBP officers, enhanced technology, accountable goals such as 30-minute wait time, and improved transparency. The resources will be sorely needed to attract 100 million international visitors by 2021 (33 million more than in 2012). That goal was set to combat a significant drop in the U.S. share of global long-haul travel between 2000 (17 percent) and 2012 (12.9 percent).

From the “Gateway to Jobs & Growth: Creating a Better Traveler Entry Process” report: According to CBP data provided from June 2012 to May 2013, more than 40,000 passengers waited longer than two hours to be processed at Miami International Airport, and more than 180,000 at New York’s JFK (where wait times never dropped below 30 minutes). “International long-haul visitors’ spending…is diminished when visitors stand in line,” said the report. The lodging segment alone is at risk to lose $3.1 billion from trips not taken to the U.S.

An extended government shutdown (see cover story) will have its own repercussions, according to the Global Business Travel Association: “Overseas businesses will lose confidence and put U.S. investment plans on hold…Each inbound international business trip increases U.S. merchandise exports to the visited country by $36,000 per year and each overseas traveler spends approximately $5,000 when they visit.”

Even with these concerns, travel exports (defined as any goods and services that international travelers buy while visiting the U.S.) are stronger than ever. Based on Department of Commerce figures, U.S. Travel reported that travel exports increased 8.9 percent over the first seven months of 2013 — six times faster than other U.S. exports of goods and services. This is contributing to a travel trade surplus 25 percent higher than last year.

As the first nationally coordinated international marketing effort, Brand USA (the public/private partnership also known as the Corporation for Travel Promotion) appears to be making some headway with its programs. By the end of this year, Brand USA’s consumer campaign will be in 11 markets: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom. Together “they represent 75 percent of inbound travel to the United States…and every 1 percent increase in visitation from these markets will help us welcome 500,000 more travelers and $1 billion in spending,” cited Brand USA chair Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California, earlier this year.

Brand USA, however, has a big question mark on its back. The program, established by the Travel Promotion Act of 2009, will sunset in 2015. Reauthorization was included in immigration reform legislation passed by the Senate, but stalled in the House. Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) introduced H.R. 2626 in July to extend Brand USA’s funding, but no co-sponsors have come forward yet. — Maxine Golding

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About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, is a business journal for senior meeting planners that is distributed in print and digital editions to the clients, prospects, and associates of ConferenceDirect, which handles over 13,000 worldwide meetings, conventions, and incentives annually.

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