Washington Post Live panelists talk security, natural attractions

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Reducing visa wait times, making airport security more user-friendly and drawing more overseas visitors to off-the-beaten-path attractions were among the main topics discussed by U.S. tourism leaders at a conference and webcast by Washington Post Live.

Panelists said that local and federal tourism officials could broaden the scope of attractions for source markets such as Brazil and China by pitching trips like golf tours to California’s Monterey Peninsula or wildlife refuges in Missouri, which would complement already popular destinations such as New York and Orlando.

Additionally, smartphone apps offering translated guided tours through the national parks could make such tours more appealing to overseas visitors who might otherwise be deterred by the language barrier, said Rhea Suh, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for policy, management and budget.

“We are trying to get foreign travelers to think of their trips in slightly different ways,” Suh said.

Panelists also said they were trying to make up for what’s commonly known in travel circles as “the lost decade,” in which the U.S. lost international travel market share to other nations largely because of increased security and restrictions post-9/11.

Progress has already been made on that front. In Brazil, the time it takes for a prospective visitor to get a visa appointment is down to about two days from a high of about four months, said Edward Ramotowski, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for visa services.

As a result, about 1.8 million Brazilian tourists will reach the U.S. this year, up from about 500,000 in 2005, said Mauro Vieira, ambassador with the Brazilian Embassy.

Follow Danny King on Twitter @dktravelweekly.

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