Skift Take

Today's U.S. policy is a de facto boycott on travelers from countries such as India and Mexico. Senseless. Plus: Hilton's CEO Chris Nassetta is lobbying to get funding for a new assistant secretary position for tourism and wants to reform U.S. air travel.

Chris Nassetta, CEO of Hilton and incoming national chair of the U.S. Travel Association, called on Wednesday for U.S. government officials to cut visa wait times that he said were hurting the country’s domestic travel sector and U.S. federal revenues.

“I was deeply involved with the effort to lobby the Obama Administration when we had a very similar issue, though it wasn’t as extreme,” Nassetta said. “We worked closely with the Administration to get it down to 21 days. So we’re going to make the case again.”

Roughly 40 percent of people with an intent to travel to the U.S. live in a country where they must get an interview at a U.S. consulate as part of their visa application. Several consulates and embassies now have wait times in the hundreds of days. According to the U.S. State Department, the wait time as of Tuesday in New Delhi was 616 days, and in Mexico City was 549 days.

Nassetta said that when he becomes national chair of the lobbying group later this month he would lead a “ratcheting up of attention” to the issue.

“Why now?” Nassetta asked. “Because it’s time. It’s relevant to helping major cities by bringing more international travelers. Plus, it’s a revenue raiser for the government. Everyone knows that the fees you pay for a visa application exceed the costs if things are done efficiently.”

Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of U.S. Travel (center) and Chris Nassetta, CEO of Hilton, at a press conference on Feburary 1, 2023, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Washington, D.C. Source: U.S. Travel.

The U.S. Travel Association forecast that the U.S. would lose billions in travel spending in 2023 because between 2 and 6 million people may be unable to visit this year despite applying to do so.

“Travel’s recovery is the nation’s recovery when it comes to jobs,” said Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of U.S. Travel.

Funding a Secretary

Nassetta set out on Wednesday a broad agenda he planned to help U.S. Travel pursue alongside Freeman. Both described the lobbying group as non-partisan with friends across the political aisles.

The association claimed a recent win with the signing of legislation last year to create an assistant secretary position with a tourism focus. Destination marketers first proposed the role in 1996.

But the timeline for filling that position remains up in the air. One hangup is that the position was designated vaguely to be in the Commerce Department. But that department is mandated by Congress to fulfill a couple of other, longer-running projects to, effectively, help rural areas reduce, rather than increase, any over-reliance on tourism in their local economies, such as by creating other infrastructure like microchip factories and broadband service to support digital enterprises.

“We’ll work this year to get funding for that position,” Freeman said.

FAA Reform

Another hot topic for Nassetta and Freeman was pushing the government to speed up an overhaul of the U.S. air travel system.

“This isn’t about funding,” Freeman said. “It’s about dedication to solving problems. … I don’t think we should be tolerating this. Efficiency is failing right now.”

Nassetta noted that it is only recently that most of the major U.S. airlines had joined U.S. Travel as a lobbying group, which he believed would amplify the voice of the lobby on this issue.

Nassetta and Freeman said they saw an upcoming bill to reauthorize funding for the Federal Aviation Administration as a chance to push for change, especially after a January 11 nationwide grounding of 11,000 flights because of an apparent mishap in that agency’s computer systems. (For context, see Airline Weekly’s coverage, “Delta CEO Wants Politics Out of FAA Funding Following Outage.”)

“It’s sad but true to say that when the whole country shuts down its entire air system for the better part of a day, it brings a lot of attention to the issue,” Nassetta said.


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Tags: Christopher Nassetta, hilton, u.s., us travel, US Travel Association, visas

Photo credit: Hilton Hotels CEO Chris Nassetta in discussion with Skift Founder Rafat Ali at Skift Global Forum in New York City on Sept. 22, 2021. Skift

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