Skift Travel News Blog

Short stories and posts about the daily news happenings around the travel industry.

Tourism

U.S. State Department Cautions Americans About Travel Worldwide Amid Unrest

9 months ago

The U.S. Department of State issued a “worldwide caution” to all Americans traveling abroad on Thursday. It urged them to stay alert due to heightened tensions in various locations, potential terrorist attacks and violent actions against U.S. citizens. The caution is in response to the ongoing the war between Israel and Hamas.

Americans traveling abroad were advised to stay alert in locations frequented by tourists, enroll in the Smart Travel Enrollment Program to stay updated and follow the State Department on Facebook and Twitter.

Full Coverage: U.S. Travel Caution FAQ – What the State Department Advice Means for Travelers

On Tuesday, the U.S. advised Americans to avoid travel all to Lebanon. On October 14, the U.S. advised Americans to reconsider travel to Israel due to terrorism and civil unrest.

The U.S. has four advisory levels for countries based on how safe and secure they are for U.S. travelers:

  • Level 4: Do Not Travel. U.S. travelers should not travel there because it’s very dangerous. Lebanon is now under this level.
  • Level 3: Reconsider Travel. U.S. Travelers should avoid traveling to this area due to safety and security risks. Israel is now under this level.
  • Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution. American traveling to this area should be aware of heightened risks.
  • Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions. This is the lowest level in terms of safety and security risks to U.S. travelers.  

The U.S. government is facilitating charter flight transportation for U.S. on a rolling basis at Ben Gurion International Airport through at least Sunday, October 22.

Tourism

U.S. to Allow Visa-Free Travel for Israeli Tourists

10 months ago

The U.S. has added Israel to the Visa Waiver Program, the U.S. Department of State announced Wednesday. Starting November 30, Israeli citizens and nationals will be to travel to the U.S. for tourism or business without first obtaining a visitor visa for up to 90 days. Israeli citizens and nationals will only need to complete Electronic System for Travel Authorization.

The U.S. Travel Association projects the U.S. will welcome an additional 200,000 Israelis per year, which will generate $800 million in direct travel spending.

The U.S. Visa Waiver Program includes France, UK, Spain and 38 other countries.

Tourism

U.S. Visitor Visa Wait Times in India Drop by 50 Percent

1 year ago

The amount of time a first-time visitor visa applicant in India has to wait for an interview has fallen from an average of 669 days in mid-March to 337 days in early April, a 50 percent drop, according to the U.S. Travel Association. 

The industry lobby group attributed the wait time reduction to the State Department’s initiatives this year to reduce the visa backlog. In India, it has put in place a number of initiatives, such as bringing processing staff in on weekends, making embassies available to Indian nationals in other countries and hiring more staff.

“The results we’re seeing in India are proof that—with the right tools—State can make significant progress on this issue,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman in a statement. “However, there is clearly more work ahead to lower wait times worldwide.”

India is one of the U.S.’s top source markets that are experiencing long visa processing times, which reinforces a Skift megatrend that border bottlenecks will slow the recovery of international travel. Brazil, Mexico and Colombia wait times are at 511 days, 590 days and 752 days, respectively, as of April 14, according to U.S. Travel. The State Department has put in place initiatives in those countries similar to the ones it put in India.

Applicants in India had an especially absurd wait time. In January, for example, they had to wait 999 days for an interview at the Mumbai embassy. 

The country’s rough visa situation was caused by embassies being “shut down completely” by a presidential proclamation during the pandemic combined with the country’s historically high (and now pent-up) demand for all visa categories, said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Visa Services Julie Stufft in an interview with Skift.

U.S. Travel encouraged the State Department to continue the initiatives that have proven effective in India in other countries. It also pointed out that competitors are taking away U.S. global travel market share by allowing visa-free travel from the visa backlogged markets. The European Union, for example, allows travelers from Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Israel and Venezuela to visit without a visa.

“No one will wait years for a visa to visit the U.S. when so many other countries welcome global travelers with open arms,” said Freeman. “The State Department must continue to make international visitors an economic priority before we lose them to other destinations.”

Tourism

U.S. Visa Delays Sees Some Reduction

2 years ago

Global average wait times for U.S. visitor visas dropped below 150 days in January for the first time since 2021, according to the U.S. Travel Association. They still, however, remain higher than 400 days for India, Brazil, Mexico and top inbound visa-requiring markets (excluding China).

In 2022, aspiring tourists from the top ten inbound countries outside the U.S. Visa Waiver Program couldn’t travel to the U.S. because they had to hundreds of days to get a visitor visa (B-1 and B-2) interview at their local U.S. embassy. The primary reason was inadequate processing staff amid released pent-up demand. The delays could cost the travel industry an estimated $12 billion in 2023 and cause international travel not to reach pre-pandemic levels until 2025, according to the U.S. Travel.

The recent wait time reductions have been due to the State Department’s new processing initiatives. The department’s “Super Saturdays” initiative has had embassies and consulates remain open on Saturdays to process visas. This past Saturday, for example, the consulate at Monterrey, Mexico, cut interview wait times from 545 days in mid-December to (still high) 407 days. The administration’s wavering of interview requirements for low-risk renewals of visitor visa and other categories have also helped.

Visa wait times remain absurdly high for many international tourists. In Mumbai, India, for example, wait times fell from 999 days in mid-December to 623 days—that’s more than a year and a half.

The State Department expects interview wait times will fall to under 120 days and its embassies and consulates will be fully staffed by the end of the 2023 fiscal year, according to U.S. Travel. The speed of visa wait times reductions will vary by country due local travel demand and hiring pace, according to Peter van Berkel, chairman of the International Inbound Travel Association and president of Travalco, a tour operator. 

Under 120 days is still high and underscores the Skift 2023 megatrend that the U.S. travel industry will have to continue to contend with the loss of many international travelers.

Working with the State Department to resolve the visitor visa delay issue will be the top priority for the person that fills the newly-created assistant secretary of travel and tourism position