Attracting more tourists to the United States needs to be a top priority in Washington. Part of that work means expanding — and possibly rebranding — the nation’s Visa Waiver Program.
Tourism is a particular interest to anyone living in the Buffalo-Niagara region, with its place on an international border and the allure of Niagara Falls. Of course, there are many other interesting sites, cultural and sports attractions to keep families busy and entertained. But if there is a cap — even if only perceived — on the number of visitors who might be allowed in, that’s a problem.
When it comes to travel, oftentimes perception becomes reality. How many places have been crossed off the bucket list because of bad press and rumors?
It is imperative that the United States maintain its attraction to people venturing from other countries and prepared to spend money.
As outlined in a recent Los Angeles Times article printed in The News, there is keen interest in expanding the Visa Waiver Program, which allows travelers from 38 countries to visit the United States without visas. Lawmakers must carefully consider security issues, of course, but in cases where it makes sense, they should look to expand the number of countries the program covers.
A trade group for the nation’s travel industry is taking another potentially useful approach by pushing a new “tougher sounding ” name for the program: the Security Travel Partnership. Jonathan Grella, executive vice president at the U.S. Travel Association, worries that the word “waiver” sounds overzealous and unconcerned with security. Rebranding with a new name could create a new perception.
The trade group needs bipartisan support from lawmakers in Washington, D.C., both to rename the program and to expand it to include nine new countries, which include Poland, Argentina, Israel and Brazil. There’s also a bigger tourism-boosting effort among travel and tourism leaders who are concerned that the United States is, slowly but surely, losing its footing as the most popular destination for international tourists.
Consider the strong U.S. dollar, economic turmoil in Europe, trade tensions with China and harsh anti-immigrant talk emanating from Washington. It all adds up to a money-losing proposition, and the possibility that China, which is already closing in as the world’s new tourism hotspot, will claim the title.
To spell it out in dollars and cents, by 2030 travel and tourism is expected to contribute $3 trillion into the Chinese economy. The United States is expected to pull in $2 trillion in travel and tourism spending by they the same year, according to statistics released by the World Travel & Tourism Council, a London-based nonprofit.
Interestingly, the expansion of the program appeared to have the support of President Trump. Time will tell if legislators follow through.
Expansion and rebranding of the Visa Waiver Program is in this region and country’s best interest.