More good news

Efforts by the Obama administration to increase tourism exports (i.e., inbound travel) appear to be paying off. The Commerce Department reported recently that foreign visitors to the U.S. spent a record $181 billion last year, a 9% increase.

This means that visitor spending accounts for 26% of U.S. service exports and 8% of overall exports. It's hard to know when you reach critical mass, but it seems to us that numbers like these make it far less likely that travel and tourism will get short shrift in government deliberations.

It's also heartening to know that the government initiatives aren't merely about the big markets and the low-hanging fruit. Chile, for example, just became the 38th country in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which allows eligible travelers to visit the U.S. for up to 90 days for business or tourism without a visa.

In fiscal year 2013, nearly 20 million visitors to the U.S. reaped the benefit of that program. Against this background, Chile does not stand out as a large market, sending about 200,000 passengers a year to the U.S., far less than many countries we can name. Germany sends nearly 10 times as many.

But it says something reassuring about the government's commitment to the Visa Waiver Program that it is still working to include smaller markets. We like the concept of open doors.
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