By Arne Sorenson
President and CEO of Marriott International.
Which industry has rebounded faster than almost all others since the Recession?
Which supports 266 million jobs worldwide?
Which could have created 5.1 million more jobs and have brought $206 billion more into the U.S. economy if not for a cumbersome travel process?
If you said “Travel & Tourism,” you’d be spot on.
Travel & Tourism is a booming industry. Last year, 70 million foreign travelers came to the U. S. – five percent more than the previous year. And note to folks in every business: The average overseas visitor to the U.S. spends $4,500 per visitor, per trip.
Several factors are driving the growth, from the emergence of the middle class in countries like Brazil and China, to the maturation of hospitality across new frontiers, to Next Gen's embrace of travel as the oxygen of life and fuel for discovery.
Smart governments around the world understand that freedom of travel not only creates jobs, economic development, but also deeper appreciation for their countries and culture. That's why many governments are dropping visa requirements or offering visa on arrival. It's a competitive advantage.
The U.S. took a big step today in recognizing that it’s time we bring travel into the 21st century. President Obama pledged to direct the Departments of Commerce and Homeland Security to streamline the entry process for foreign visitors.
His announcement came a few hours after he gathered with CEOs from the travel industry, including me, and talked with us about how best to harness our industry’s potential for creating economic growth and jobs in the U.S.
We know that travelers consider ease of travel when they choose destinations. For instance, a survey of overseas travelers conducted by the Consensus Research Group found that 44 percent of overseas business travelers said they won’t visit the U.S. in the near future because of the U.S. entry process. And, the U.S. has lost some ground in drawing foreign visitors since 2000, from 17 percent of the market to 13 percent. The President’s plans can help us regain our share.
Across the industry, we believe that security comes first. If proper safety protocols cause inconvenience, so be it. But, oftentimes the long waits have more to do with understaffing and a failure to use technology to its potential.
Plus, the U.S. changes, which come two years after President Obama announced a broader tourism strategy that has been very successful, can serve as a model for other governments. It’s time.
President Supports Increased Travel
Photo: Drew Angerer-Pool/Getty Images