U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker called on partner governments to make greater efforts to share data, including passenger name records, to enhance security and bolster confidence among travelers.

“Partner governments must significantly advance their willingness and capabilities to collect, use, and share information to screen travelers,” Pritzker said Wednesday at the World Travel & Tourism Council’s Global Summit in Dallas, Texas.

Citing privacy concerns, many countries in Europe have been reluctant to share passenger name records, although a proposal to enhance such information is under consideration. After the recent terrorist bombings in Brussels, European governments’ lack of data-sharing has come under greater scrutiny.

Prtizker pointed to the shortfalls of the lack of data-sharing among governments.

“We must develop international systems to share data, including passenger name records, so that we can expedite processing of known and trusted travelers,” Pritzker said. “We also need to ensure that our governments are taking advantage of systems already in place, such as checking documents against Interpol’s lost and stolen passport records. These changes are important not only to the visa waiver program but also to making legitimate travel as smooth and efficient as possible across all nations.”

During Pritzker’s tenure at the Commerce Department, which began in 2013, 17 U.S. airports implemented kiosks and mobile technology to expedite the international arrivals process. She also helped expand the visa waiver program to its current 38 member countries and lobbied to lower visa wait times for countries, including Brazil and China, with citizens of the latter country now eligible for 10-year visas.

Some 40 million more people globally visited another country in 2015 compared with 2009, including a significant increase in visitors to the U.S. Pritzker is worried a rollback of the visa waiver program would deter many international travelers from making U.S. trips.

“Everyone in this room understands how tourism is negatively impacted when visitors do not feel safe,” said Pritzker. “Hospitality and national security are not mutually exclusive. We cannot afford to let security challenges stop the great progress we have made in recent years. Providing a welcoming experience while ensuring safety and security requires all of us to work together.”

“Just as the private sector is making destinations and attractions more secure, our government is also evolving our policies and programs. One of the ways we are doing this in the United States is by strengthening and expanding the Visa Waiver Program. But we cannot do it alone. This program is at risk, and we need your help. We must develop international systems to share data, including passenger name records, so that we can expedite processing of known and trusted travelers.”

Public and Private Sector Collaboration

Arne Sorenson, Marriott International CEO, joined Pritzker on stage at the summit and said the private sector shares equal responsibility with governments to be transparent and share security data.

“It’s going to be about information,” Sorenson said. “How do we make sure we are capturing that through the private sector and among governments and identifying as quickly as possible those who pose no threat in travel?”

“We facilitate that travel and roll out that red carpet of welcome for them. How do we identify where the risks are? Governments also have information, and so does the private sector. How do we make sure we pull together this highly collaborative process and voice that says to the rest of the world, ‘You’re welcome, and we trust you?'”

Sorenson expressed admiration for how President Obama supports the travel industry. “When you look back over the eight years of the Obama administration, we had the State Department saying ‘I don’t want to be blamed for the risk.’ It requires the head of state to say ‘there is more we can accomplish by promoting travel and tourism.’

“The challenge with the visa waiver program is the phrase. A better phrase is ‘trusted traveler.’ How do we make sure we identify those folks who pose absolutely no risk to our safety? How does this industry also become an incredible advocate for security and safety while promoting travel?”

Photo Credit: U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, center, and Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson (left) at the Wold Travel & Tourism Council Global Summit in Dallas, Texas April 6, 2016. WTTC / Flickr