President Barack Obama played host to the nation’s hosts at the White House today as he sought ideas from 20 travel and hotel executives to expand economic growth through tourism.
“The world has discovered that travel is the front door to economic development,” Roger Dow, chief executive of the U.S. Travel Association, said after meeting the president and members of his staff.
Chief executive officers Christopher Nassetta, of Hilton Worldwide Inc., and Arne Sorenson, of Marriott International Inc. were among the participants that also included John Caparella, president and chief operating officer of the Venetian and Palazzo Resorts and Sands Expo Center, which are owned by Republican campaign megadonor Sheldon Adelson.
In conjunction with the meeting and several other tourism- center events this week, Obama directed Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to come up with a plan within four months for cutting lines at airports for international travelers entering the U.S.
Amid signs that the U.S. economy contracted in January through March instead of eking out a 0.1 percent gain at an annualized rate as reported by the Commerce Department, and with last week’s jobless claims increasing more than forecast, the administration is renewing an initiative to boost tourism.
International travelers visiting the U.S. grew 27 percent to 70 million last year, compared with 55 million in 2009, the White House said in a fact sheet. Each visitor spends an average of $4,000 while in the U.S.
Growth in global visitors in the past five years has created about 175,000 jobs, the White House said.
Obama two years ago ordered a reduction in the time it takes to get visas for visitors from Brazil and China. The waiting time dropped to an average of less than five days compared with several months.
Sorenson said there were 98 million outbound travelers from China last year and the U.S. earned just 2 percent of that business. Speeding such travelers through the airports will be a big help, he said.
“The opportunity from that one country is massive,” he said.
Obama yesterday created a new national monument in New Mexico, signing a proclamation at the Interior Department amid Republican criticism of the federal designation. Today he is traveling to Cooperstown, New York, to promote travel at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
U.S. tourism in March, the most recent month available, totaled $5.1 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. In unadjusted dollars, that was the second-highest monthly total on record.
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