Have you noticed more Chinese tourists in Hawaii recently?
If so, that’s no accident. The Departments of State and Homeland Security have been working together to make it easier for Chinese visitors to find their way to the United States.
The White House today held a conference call with reporters to discuss its progress through the first six months since President Barack Obama issued an executive order to shorten wait times and increase capacity for visa applicants in China and Brazil, two countries rapidly becoming major players in world tourism.
Tom Nides, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, said the U.S. has increased visa capacity by 40 percent in China, helping improve the economy and create jobs. He said 16 international visitors equal one U.S. job.
In all, international visitors spent an estimated $13.7 billion on travel to, and tourism-related activities within, the United States during the month of July, according to the Department of Commerce. That’s $350 million (3 percent) more than was spent in July 2011.
Hawaii would be one of the main beneficiaries of increased travel in general, and increased travel from Asia in particular. Honolulu ranked eighth in the country for total international visitors in 2011, one spot behind Washington, D.C., and just ahead of Boston.
The number of visitors from China particular has skyrocketed, from 200,000 in 2004 to more than 1 million last year. The U.S. government wants to continue that trend, and has created 50 new visa adjudicator positions in China, slicing visa application wait times from weeks to days.
On top of that, the Department of Homeland Security is reviewing the State Department’s nomination of Taiwan to join the Visa Waiver Program. The VWP allows visitors from 36 countries to come to the U.S. for 90 days or less with no messy paperwork, and Hawaii officials have asked that it be expanded to include other Asian countries.
Jane Holl Lute, Deputy Director of Homeland Security, also said 1.5 million visitors have access to the Trusted Traveler Program and that the administration is trying to improve the economy without sacrificing security.
“We’re excited about the progress that we’ve made,” she said on the conference call.
— Michael Levine