Travel industry leaders say federal security agencies could speed up entry into the U.S. for foreign visitors with a more efficient allocation of resources, including deployment of more customs and security agents to high-volume gateways, where the majority of overseas visitors arrive.
In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, the U.S. Travel Association said that the process for international visitors to enter the U.S. is so under-resourced that resulting delays and headaches are harming regions and businesses dependent upon tourism.
Signers include public and private entities from throughout the travel sphere, for example: American Express Company; Avis Budget Group; Expedia, Inc.; Hilton Worldwide; Marriott International; 14 of the nation's largest airports and city and state tourism offices from across the country.
"In recent years international visitors and U.S. citizens returning to the U.S. have faced significant wait times at major air and sea ports of entry—surpassing four hours for primary processing at some locations," the letter reads. "These delays undermine the ongoing efforts of cities and states to increase international visitation and threaten valuable revenue derived from international traveler spending."
It continues: "[O]verseas visitors spent $99 billion in the U.S. in 2012—an average of $4,400 by each overseas visitor. Lengthy air and sea port CBP wait-time delays will only discourage return visits and send the message to prospective visitors that the U.S. arrival process is not a welcoming environment for foreign visitors, potentially costing the U.S. economy billions in spending."
The letter notes that the FY2014 Homeland Security appropriation includes the hiring of 2,000 additional CBP officers, and urges that at least half of those be dedicated to high-volume air ports of entry where delays are most severe.
Previous efforts to speed up the arrival process have already paid off —notably the development of the Global Entry and Automated Passport Control programs. That program could be expanded to help tackle remaining trouble spots.
"The benefits of inbound travel are so widely understood that we hardly need to preach about them anymore—the massive tax revenues, the creation of unexportable jobs, the hugely positive contribution to our trade balance," said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow.
"President Obama clearly understood that when he set the goal of attracting 100 million international visitors annually by 2021. But we need to invest in order to make that goal workable—and if we do, the return on that investment will be gigantic and directly touch Americans in every corner of the country."