Travel and tourism leaders have made some significant progress in recent years in raising the government's awareness of the industry's role in the economy, but we are apparently not ready for prime time: Travel and tourism did not make it into President Obama's State of the Union address last week.



To his credit, President Obama took the trouble, during the week before the State of the Union, to travel to Disney World and unveil an executive order to develop a tourism strategy and to facilitate inbound tourism.

Following the enactment of the Travel Promotion Act and this administration's (so far) smooth implementation of its key provisions, this was an important and welcome gesture.

But such is the state of travel and tourism in the national consciousness that presidents still tend to talk tourism to tourism audiences in tourism venues.

To borrow a theme from the president's State of the Union address, we're making progress, but we can do more.

A major focus of the recent executive order, for example, is to increase the government's capacity to process visa applications from Chinese and Brazilian nationals by 40% over the next year, and to reduce the waiting time for the required in-person interview to three weeks or less for 80% of visa applicants.

It's an important milestone for the industry that a sitting president spent any time at all talking about visa processing for inbound tourists.

But let's face it, three weeks is not "good." It's merely "better" than waiting times that stretch out to three months or more, which has been the intolerable reality in Brazil.

As commendable as it is to set a goal of reducing the waiting time and the backlog, it's important to note what the government is not doing, or not doing yet. The focus, so far, is not to make the visa application process any simpler for Chinese or Brazilian or Indian travelers but to increase the government's capability to handle more applicants.

Notably, the U.S. is not opening additional consular offices or adopting video-conferencing as an alternative to the in-person visit for travelers in China or Brazil, where a trip to a U.S. consulate can easily mean a journey of a thousand miles and back.

The U.S. also has refrained from issuing multiple-entry visas with a validity period of, say, three or five years, one of several related proposals awaiting action on Capitol Hill.

Under a pilot program not mentioned in the executive order, the government will waive the interview in certain "low-risk" situations, such as for certain visa renewals or for first-time applicants who are "younger or older."

For the foreseeable future, however, the process will remain daunting, cumbersome and long for the vast majority of applicants in these countries.

The president asked his advisers to prepare a national travel and tourism strategy within 90 days and to make one of the goals of that strategy an increase in the U.S. market share of international travelers originating from China, Brazil and India.

We thank him for that, but it seems to us that an important part of achieving this goal is making sure that getting a visa for the U.S. is as easy or easier than getting one for the E.U.

On that score, more needs to be done.
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