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The increase in outbound tourists from economically thriving countries such as China, India and Brazil could potentially bring visited countries well-needed income and create jobs in a whole range of industries. So why is it that during the past ten years the US, one of the world’s most desired travel destinations, has been losing market share to other countries, such as France (who captured 18% more Chinese visitors than the US in 2010)?

One of the biggest deterrents for tourists wishing to travel to America is the frustratingly-long visa application time which can be 100 days or more for some applications. Patricia Rojas, Vice President of government affairs for the US Travel Association (USTA), said of visa problems: “Unfortunately we’ve had significant barriers to travel, because of delays and customer service concerns about the visa process, leading to the inability of travellers to get a visa in a timely basis. Between 2000 and 2010, there was extensive growth in the (overseas) travel market, but the US was stagnant, and our share of the market actually dropped.”

As well as the long processing time, due to the necessity that each applicant takes part in an interview to obtain a visa, before a traveller has even left China they could be required to spend a considerable amount of time and money travelling to one of the country’s only six consular offices for their in-person meeting.

And the problems don’t stop there – inbound travellers’ welcome by US customs could be improved as well. Rojas commented: “We’ve had visitors get off an eight-hour flight, then wait 60 to 90 minutes to be processed, and that’s not the first impression we want to give them of the United States. Friendly and efficient processing of visitors needs to happen at our international airports.”

So, what can be done to halt this downward turn? The US have recognised these problems, and new legislation, such as the Welcoming Business Travellers and Tourists to America Act of 2011, which addresses inefficiencies in the visa processing system and will encourage maintaining a 12-day processing time and pilot visa interviews conducted via videoconferencing; the International Tourism Facilitation Act, a bill to make changes to the procedures relating to the issuance of visas, and amendments to the State Department Operations Bill should help towards the US making the most of their inbound tourist potential.

Growth has already been observed in the larger gateway cities such as LA (16%), New York (10%) and Miami (11%), and following income created by the 2010 Travel Promotion Act, the US’s first global brand, Brand USA, launched on Monday announcing that their first advertising and marketing campaign will be released in spring 2012, aimed at encouraging travellers from all over the world to visit the US.

The USTA hope that these campaigns, along with well-needed visa procedural changes, will encourage Chinese and other travellers to keep America near the top their travel wish-list.

Amended from original article at http://www.hotelnewsnow.com/Articles.aspx/6876/US-struggles-to-attract-international-guests

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Michael Kaltenhauser

Founder and director of Astronaut, a marketing agency based in Beijing which is specialized on promoting destinations to Chinese outbound tourists

Laura Hine

Online Communications Assistant at Astronaut