Obama Gives Tourism A Big Boost

Readers of this weekly column are accustomed by now to the key themes and issues I’ve been raising about the future of our visitor industry. These particularly include the necessity of federal support for travel and tourism as national priorities, the importance of visa waivers as a means of stimulating more travel from friendly nations, and the contribution of the industry to job creation and the economy. These are matters with which I’ve been intimately involved since serving as the state’s economic development and tourism director in the early 1990s.

The groundwork we completed, as early as the 1990s when our federal government granted visa waivers to visitors from Japan and then in Congress’s passage of the Travel Promotion Act of 2009, has now resulted in one of the most significant actions by the federal government in years, if not decades.

Last month, President Obama signed an executive order charging the departments of Commerce and Interior with co-leading an interagency task force to make recommendations for a national travel and tourism strategy to promote travel and expand job creation, and to coordinate these administration efforts with those of the Corporation for Travel Promotion, the nonprofit organization established by the Travel Promotion Act to promote travel to our country, and the Tourism Policy Council to ensure private sector involvement. One focus of the task force will be promoting visits to national treasures, such as our national parks.

The departments of State and Homeland Security have been given targets of increasing non-immigrant visa processing capacity for China and Brazil by 40 percent in 2012, ensuring that 80 percent of these visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of receipt of application, and stepping up efforts to expand the visa waiver program. Chinese travelers, a growing market for Hawaii, have complained that visa requests can take months for approval.

The same agencies will establish a pilot program to simplify and speed up the non-immigrant visa process for certain applicants, including the ability to waive interviews for some very low-risk applicants, something I’ve been calling for.

The federal government also will expand and make the Global Entry program permanent. This program, created as a pilot in 2008 to facilitate expedited clearance for pre-approved, lowrisk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Global Entry has been a publicprivate partnership that used kiosks in 20 airports to speed the admission of travelers, saving inspection time for customs and immigration officers.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also has requested that Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano add Taiwan to the list of 36 countries now on the visa waiver program.

The significance of all this is that the federal government is acknowledging what we in Hawaii have long-appreciated: Travel and tourism can be a key source of revenue and jobs. While other nations recognize the importance of tourism and have devoted the resources to promote it as a national economic priority, the United States has lagged.

The U.S. tourism and travel industry represented 2.7 percent of GDP and 7.5 million jobs in 2010, with international travel to this country supporting 1.2 million jobs alone (and thousands in Hawaii). The industry projects that more than 1 million American jobs could be created over the next decade if the U.S. increased its share of the international travel market. According to the Department of Commerce, international travel resulted in $134 billion in U.S. exports in 2010 and is the nation’s largest serviceexport industry, 24 percent of service exports.

These developments will mean great things for Hawaii as we seek to expand our appeal to new nations and new travelers. It will enable us to compete in a very tough global market, with the backing of our federal, state and county governments. And as I have long advocated during my travels to Washington, D.C., and for tourism promotions on the Mainland and elsewhere, Hawaii can and should serve as an example for the rest of the country of how we can make this national goal a reality.

MUFI’S VISITOR HEROES

Kaimi Kaneholani

Position: Door Attendant
Location: Saint Regis Princeville Resort

Kaimi Kaneholani is one of the visitor industry’s best representatives, which is why he was second runner-up in the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association’s 2012 Na Po’e Pa’ahana awards program in the bell/valet of the year category.

Kaimi’s job title is door attendant for the Saint Regis Princeville Resort, but he fills in as a valet, bellman and house car driver when the need arises. So dedicated is he to representing the resort and to making every guest’s stay enjoyable, he’ll even use a day off to help visitors. In one example, Kaimi bumped into two resort guests at Ke’e Beach. He found parking for them, advised them on things to do and coached them on snorkeling. Another time, he loaned a young couple his family’s stroller to use during their stay.

This top performer and role model for the Saint Regis dedicates his free time to ocean safety as a volunteer for the Kaua’i Ocean Recreation Experience for the Handicapped and is an instructor for the Kaua’i Junior Lifeguard program.

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