Adding U.S. Jobs Through Increased Tourism Is an Easy Goal | Commentary

Posted July 11, 2014 at 11:43am

With all eyes focused on Brazil as the host of the World Cup, we are witness to the hospitality and welcoming spirit of Brazilians as they entertain the world. Wouldn’t it be great if the U.S. could reciprocate and entertain more Brazilians here in our country? Unfortunately, Brazil visa treaty negotiations are stalled before the game has even started.

Although world travel has grown by more than 90 million travelers during the past decade, the U.S. market share has fallen from 17 percent to 13 percent. Recapturing America’s historic share of worldwide international travel would mean 1.4 million new U.S. jobs and $511 billion in additional economic output. If the U.S. simply granted visa waiver status to Brazil, whose citizens spend an average of $5,000 per visit to the United States, it would add $7.7 billion to the economy and support more than 47,000 new American jobs as a result of nearly 740,000 more Brazilian visitors.

We must act now to break down barriers that deter travelers and, as a result, hinder the continued success of not only the travel industry, but the overall economy.

The United States is one of the great travel destinations. I’ve been fortunate to see firsthand our guests’ excitement when they see the lights of New York City or experience the grandeur of the Grand Canyon for the first time. International travelers want to vacation on our shores, stay in our hotels, dine in our restaurants or close an important business deal face-to-face. All too often, our laws and regulations make it difficult to travel here, and many of those who are able to make the trip say they won’t return because of the significant inconveniences and expenses obtaining visas and entering and leaving the U.S border.

“Winning” the travel game is simple. We must continue to make our visa process more efficient and accessible to the foreign travelers who are eager to visit the United States and spend their hard-earned money. To do this, we must push for the expansion of the Visa Waiver Program as part of the Jobs Originated through Launching Travel Act, standalone bipartisan legislation (HR 1354) that addresses key hurdles in the visa processing system.

The VWP allows citizens from countries that meet strict security protocols to travel to the U.S. without waiting for a visa. As a result, expanding the program means responsibly boosting the economy and accelerating U.S. job creation — not only in the hospitality industry but in other industries that support it such as manufacturing, health care, construction and retail.

Opening our country’s doors to international travelers will spark economic growth, improve the connective tissue between markets around the world and allow friendly travelers to experience everything our nation has to offer, from picturesque New England, to the majestic Rocky Mountains, to beautiful beachfronts on the Gulf Coast.

We’ve already seen the immediate benefits of expanding the VWP. Since admitting South Korea to the program in 2008, spending by South Korean visitors increased 69 percent. It is anticipated that if we eliminate the need for Brazilians to obtain a visa to visit the U.S., we could see visitation jump by up to 33 percent in the first year.

If the VWP is extended to candidates such as Brazil, Poland, Israel and Croatia through the JOLT Act, the U.S. will take an important step forward in reaching the goal of recapturing its share of international travelers. Expansion of the program to these and other select countries will add nearly $10 billion to the economy and create more than 60,000 additional American jobs.

As countries compete in the World Cup final this weekend, I encourage our leaders in Washington to compete for global travel. Passing the JOLT Act will infuse cash into cities across the country, create jobs and leave visitors with a better impression of the U.S. and a desire to return — scoring an important goal for the U.S. economy.

Christopher J. Nassetta is president and chief executive officer for Hilton Worldwide.